My weekly Law Bytes column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) picks up on Toronto Hydro’s announcement last week of its plans to blanket the City of Toronto with wireless Internet access. I note that the announcement has sparked an important debate about the appropriate role for governments and public institutions in providing Internet connectivity, which comes on the heels of the CRTC’s recent decision to distribute $652 million to major telecommunications providers such as Bell and Telus to help defray the costs of implementing high-speed connectivity in rural Canadian communities.
These developments place the spotlight squarely on a critical question for new Conservative Industry Minister Maxime Bernier – what, if anything, should government do about Internet connectivity?
The starting position for a Conservative government might well be to argue that government has a very limited role to play here, concluding that this is strictly a marketplace issue and that the private sector has plenty of incentives to develop networks for consumer use.
Given the Web’s importance, I argue that government cannot adopt a hands-off approach, though it must recognize that its role differs in the urban and rural markets.