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    Putting Some Substance into Canada’s Digital Economy Penske File

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    Tuesday September 04, 2012
    Appeared in the Toronto Star on September 2, 2012 as Canada Can't Afford to Wait Any Longer for Digital Economy Strategy

    Industry Minister Christian Paradis paid a visit to the Economic Club of Canada in Toronto last week to deliver a speech focused on the digital economy.  As has been the case for months, the speech was short on specifics but filled with platitudes about a forthcoming digital economy strategy that "challenges our innovators" and "drives new technology."

    Yet despite promises of a strategy by the end of the year, the issue remains the government's "Penske File", a source of regular speeches and much "work" but few tangible results (for non-Seinfeld watchers, the Penske file is a reference to a non-existent work project). In fact, with Paradis telling attendees that the government’s role " is to give our best and brightest the opportunities they need to succeed and then get out of the way" the strategy may be about as ambitious as the character George Costanza was on the Seinfeld show.

    Canadians have waited years for a digital economy strategy. Paradis should dispense with the well-worn cliches and opt for an ambitious plan that generates genuine excitement and broad public support.

    If Canada is to re-emerge as a digital economy leader, the starting point should be universal computer ownership combined with affordable broadband Internet access. The government has supported extending broadband access to rural communities in recent years, but there still remain thousands of Canadians who do not have access to affordable high-speed Internet services. Reliance on the private sector has failed to provide universal affordable access and the government should acknowledge the need for the public funds to address the issue.

    Mere affordable access is not enough, however. As millions of Canadian students head back to school this week, it is worth remembering that many do not have computers in their homes. The solution lies in a digital economy strategy that brings together the technology and telecommunications sector to develop a plan that ensures universal access to computers and broadband Internet by 2015.

    Ensuring Canadians have the necessary access is only the first step in the strategy. They must also have the skills and digital literacy to use the technology effectively. This will require a concerted effort at working with provincial and local groups to provide the necessary knowledge and tools. These programs should be integrated into schools and available more broadly within local communities.

    Once Canadians are online, the government can’t get out of the way until it establishes the legal framework that fosters public confidence in e-commerce and the online environment. Paradis should bring the languishing anti-spam legislation into effect by finalizing regulations that have been missing-in-action for the past year and introduce tough privacy reforms that mandate disclosure of security breaches backed by penalties for non-compliance.

    Government also can’t get out of the way until it has established a framework that fosters a fiercely competitive Canadian digital economy. Paradis told the Economic Club that "we need to take more risks, think more creatively and act more boldly to claim our place in the global economy."

    Exhorting business to take risks isn’t going to make Canada a digital economy leader, however. Creating a competitive market will, which necessitates removing foreign investment restrictions in the telecom and broadcast sectors, rejecting persistent calls to "regulate the Internet", enforcing net neutrality regulations, and using the forthcoming spectrum auction to encourage new entrants and greater competition.

    There will be additional elements to the strategy - government transitioning to electronic delivery of services, creating a digital economy leader around the cabinet table, and finding ways to pay for funded programs stand out - but after years of delays, Canada needs fewer speeches on the digital economy and more substance.

    Michael Geist holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law. He can reached at mgeist@uottawa.ca or online at www.michaelgeist.ca.

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    Wall Street Journal's MarketWatch on Canada's Penske File

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    Wednesday May 16, 2012
    The Wall Streeet Journal's MarketWatch picks up on Canada's missing digital economy strategy, using the Penske File framing to discuss the failure of Industry Minister Christian Paradis to lead on the file.
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    Penske File No More? The Canadian Digital Economy Strategy Inches Forward

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    Tuesday March 20, 2012
    The lack of progress on the Canadian digital economy strategy has been a source of frustration for many as the still-unreleased strategy has been largely missing in action. Late last year I dubbed it the government's Penske File, a reference to the Seinfeld episode involving a non-existent work project. While Canada is still without a comprehensive strategy, elements have begun to emerge in recent weeks.

    On the legislative and policy front, Bill C-11 has passed the committee stage and seems likely to race toward royal assent by the summer, last week's unveiling of the telecom policy (including policies on the forthcoming spectrum auction and foreign ownership) puts to rest a major issue associated with the digital economy strategy, the CRTC recently published its final anti-spam regulations with Industry Canada expected to follow with theirs shortly, the open government initiative has been making considerable progress, and Government House Leader Peter Van Loan told the House of Commons on Thursday that Bill C-12 (the PIPEDA reform bill) may finally move forward next week.

    Industry Minister Christian Paradis yesterday took another positive step by convening a federal - provincial ministerial meeting on the digital economy.

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    Digital Economy Strategy has Become the Federal Government's "Penske File"

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    Tuesday November 29, 2011
    Later today, Industry Minister Christian Paradis will deliver a speech that will provide an update on the government's digital economy strategy. The speech is likely to point to the recently launched Digital Technology Adoption Pilot Program, talk about moving forward with copyright and privacy legislation, describe work on spectrum, and indicate that a decision has still not been made on the removal of foreign investment restrictions. In other words, basically repackage several earlier speeches on the same issue.

    My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) focuses on the lack of movement on the digital economy strategy, arguing that it has emerged as the government's "Penske File"- the source of considerable discussion and much "work" but thus far few tangible results (for non-Seinfeld watchers, the Penske file has become synonymous for a non-existent work project).

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