Does the future of Canada Post lie in offering Canadian-based cloud services and rural broadband? The Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates thinks it might. The committee released a report yesterday on the future of Canada Post that ventures into the digital realm with several recommendations that will make little sense to those that closely follow digital policy in Canada. The committee report includes discussion that Canada Post could offer a Canadian-based cloud service, a Canadian social network, and rural broadband services. The recommendations include:
The federal government examine, with the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the possible delivery of broadband Internet and improved cellular service to rural Canada using Canada Post real estate to house servers and offer retail services to customers.
While there is unquestionably a need to address the rural broadband access issue in Canada, there is little reason to believe that Canada Post, which brings no particular expertise and no money to invest in the actual networks, is the right organization to solve the problem.
Post offices in other countries do offer Internet services, but this report reads as if the committee did not consult anyone with expertise on the issue. The thinking would appear to be that with post offices everywhere, why not have the post office set up a server and take orders. Yet a physical space to offer service is not the issue. Indeed, by that standard, Tim Horton’s or an Esso station could do the same. The challenge with the rural broadband is the cost associated with building and maintaining networks. As the Conservative dissent notes:
the Committee did not hear substantive testimony to indicate that there is a widely-held desire for, or financially sustainable means of providing such services. The technical possibility of this proposal is also questionable. This is another example of a recommendation that is untested, uncosted, and lacks clear supporting information to make the case for such services.
After more than 15 years of trying, it is readily apparent that the economics of rural broadband require some form of public investment along with innovative approaches such as public-private partnerships, community-based networks, and wireless solutions. Looking to the post office at this time seems unlikely to advance the issue.