Digital Economy Strategy has Become the Federal Government’s “Penske File”

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).

Most of Canada’s trading partners have had digital economy strategies in place for years, using the policies to set goals for connectivity, guide investments in networks and digital infrastructure, as well as establish legal frameworks to provide privacy protection and enhance consumer confidence in electronic commerce.

Canada has lagged behind with no real policy direction. In May 2010, then-Industry Minister Tony Clement conducted a national consultation on the issue, yet 18 months later, there is still no strategy in sight. There has admittedly been an election and a cabinet shuffle, but as Canada dithers, other countries move ahead with a broad range of initiatives.  

Countries such as Japan, Germany, and Australia have all established ambitious targets for broadband connectivity, employing a mix of public dollars and regulatory incentives with the goal of establishing universal access to affordable, fast connectivity. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has set a target of universal access to 5 Mbps broadband by 2015, but a report last week indicated that hundreds of thousands of Canadian households currently only have access to much slower speeds.

In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission recently teamed up with cable and technology companies to launch Connect-to-Compete, which promises to bring computers and Internet access to low-income households.  The program includes a commitment from the cable companies to offer to $10 a month broadband Internet access to homes with children that are eligible for free school lunches. Moreover, Microsoft has committed to offering low-cost personal computers and Morgan Stanley has pledged to develop a microfinance lending program for community-based financial institutions.

Digital strategies are not limited fostering greater Internet access. In Europe, the European Commission recently adopted a recommendation on digitization that will lead to investing billions in digitization initiatives. The strategy includes a plan to make 30 million works freely available online as well as develop legal frameworks to facilitate greater access to online materials.

Ireland has focused on copyright reform as a means to jumpstart its digital economy.  Unlike Canada, which has emphasized restrictive digital locks, Richard Bruton, the Irish Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, has promised to remove barriers to digital innovation by considering greater copyright flexibility through the adoption of a fair use provision.

The net effect of these initiatives is that other countries have stopped talking about digital economy strategies and actually introduced and implemented them. In Canada, the opposite is true.

Plans for the forthcoming spectrum auction, which holds the promise of injecting new competition into the wireless and mobile broadband markets, remains shrouded in secrecy. Legislative initiatives such as new privacy rules are stuck in neutral in the House of Commons. Anti-spam laws are in limbo as the government may cave to lobbying pressure to water down tough new penalties.

Few would dispute the need for a national digital economy strategy, yet in the spirit of Seinfeld, the Canadian approach appears to have turned the matter into a strategy about nothing.


  1. No soup for you!!
    Perpetual caving to the big media “soup nazi’s” will continue to sideline Canada to the backwater of inflexible digital innovation.

    Until the government stops pandering to their incumbent big business backers our economy will continue to rely on our abundant, but finite, natural resources. All well and good if you prefer to have a single basket of shelled embryos.

    Canada is becoming known to the world as the laughing stock of climate naysayers & asbestos pushers. On this issue too it seems their heads are also firmly planted in the tar sands.

  2. Have no fear, we’re the laughing stock of the Internet world as well. That’s not entirely true, in general, my friends from the US and Europe feel more sorry for us than anything. I’ve known people who moved here from other countries and have subsequently left because the Internet and wireless is so bad and so incredibly expensive here.

  3. destroy
    mike, these guys are conservatives. The BEST they can do is destroy, not build.

    Give them a system where they could steal from every subscriber

    (whose web feed is now a web-site, due to some fortuitous accident. (Yes, it’s a VERY easy fix.))

    and the cherry-picking would commence.

    not that they could control the hubs that would arise… santizing sites would empty.


  4. it doesn’t matter if it’s the right or the left
    boot when the government is stepping on your throat.

  5. How NOT to grow your digital economy!
    Holy crap, this has got to be the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard in a long time (and there is a lot of ridiculousness out there) …

    I am not for counter fitting or profiting from it, but this judge shows an incredible lack of understanding, wisdom and ethics. If Google and Bing go along with this ruling they will start the decline of their demise. Caving to US bullying and lack of due process will not only backfire in the long run but encourage other countries and businesses to sideline them altogether.

    Then there will be LESS accountability and control. Seems to me judges ruling on important technical cases should at least be technologically literate. But then we know companies would avoid them like the plague anyways 0_o

    Think it won’t happen? Once dominant tech companies such as AOL and Napster are now footnotes to those who can do it better and meet the needs & expectations of it’s users.

  6. Woops
    I meant to reference Netscape, not Napster as a dominant tech company. Although it too could have been a successful partner in the fight AGAINST piracy if they had been courted (pun intended) properly.

  7. De-Indexing sites
    I saw that this morning as well. If I were in charge of any of these Internet mega-companies like Google, Facebook, Flikr, Youtube, etc. I would already be looking at moving my holdings off American soil and away from American ownership/control. I know that’s easier said than done but what the US ultimately wants to do to the Internet is a death sentence to many legitimate Internet businesses. Killing one business in the name of another is not acceptable.

  8. Knives coming out…
    enjoyed reading the following article:

    Quote: “Up until now, SOPA’s opponents have mostly made villains of the entertainment industry, which has spent nearly $200 million in the run up to the bill’s consideration in the House and Senate. However, a new Taliban-themed thread on Reddit attempts to vilify the lawmakers themselves by likening them to terrorists.”

    Marvelous! Please read TFA before commenting on just this quote (the analogy has to do with Taliban blowing up cell towers).

  9. $200 Million??!
    And who said politicians were cheap 😀

  10. And further …
    If they had invested that money in R&D-ing what people actually want, and progressive ways to deliver it, how much more ahead would they be?

    The only ones making money here are lawyers and lobbyists, not the starving artists.