Christian Paradis delivered his first public speech
yesterday as Industry Minister at the Canadian Telecom Summit. The media and attendees may have been hoping for a sense of the Paradis perspective on many digital economy issues (telecom, foreign ownership, spectrum, digital economy strategy, copyright), but what they got was a very slightly modified version of former Industry Minister Tony Clement’s digital economy speech
from November 2010. That includes the government’s yet to be fully articulated position on telecom foreign investment and the forthcoming spectrum auction.
Several reports from the speech have focused on these telecom issues, suggesting that government is sounding “more ambiguous and indefinite” on telecom foreign investment. I don’t see it – the government has been saying the same thing for months. For example, the Globe points to this comment from Paradis calling for a:
predictable regulatory framework that ensures an appropriate balance between competition and investment
as evidence that lobbying from incumbents has had an impact on Conservative thinking.
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The Hill Times is reporting there is speculation the government is considering splitting the Minister of Industry position into two – one to focus on innovation, science and technology and the other on the rest of the Industry portfolio. The move could be a great one – I discussed the […]
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The Liberals gave the digital economy a prominent place in their election platform, identifying eight principles
that included access to broadband for all Canadians, balanced copyright, open government, and support for an open Internet. Yesterday the party expanded on the policy by releasing Digital Canada
and holding an online chat forum with Marc Garneau. The Digital Canada release reiterated many of the platform’s positions with one notable addition – a commitment to issue an open Internet directive to the CRTC. According to the Liberals, a Liberal government would “issue an Open Internet Directive to the CRTC opposing anti-competitive usage-based billing and ensure a fair, effective wholesale regime to allow smaller Internet service providers to lease broadband infrastructure at fair prices.”
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The NDP unveiled its election platform
today and it includes a commitment to reshaping telecommunications in Canada (posts on the Liberal positions here
, Conservatives here
). The party places particular emphasis on Internet access, with a commitment to using spectrum auction proceeds for broadband access, a requirement that ISPs support the creation of new networks, rescinding the market-oriented policy direction to the CRTC, enshrining net neutrality into law, and prohibiting all forms of usage based billing. The party also commits to retaining foreign investment restrictions in both the telecom and broadcast sectors.
The specific digital economy positions include:
- We will apply the proceeds from the advanced wireless spectrum auction to ensure all Canadians, no matter where they live, will have quality high-speed broadband internet access;
- We will expect the major internet carriers to contribute financially to this goal;
- We will rescind the 2006 Conservative industry-oriented directive to the CRTC and direct the regulator to stand up for the public interest, not just the major telecommunications companies;
- We will enshrine â€œnet neutralityâ€ in law, end price gouging and â€œnet throttling,â€ with clear rules for Internet Service Providers (ISPs), enforced by the CRTC;
- We will prohibit all forms of usage-based billing (UBB) by Internet Service Providers (ISPs);
- We will introduce a bill on copyright reform to ensure that Canada complies with its international treaty obligations, while balancing consumers’ and creators’ rights.
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The Liberals released
their election platform
yesterday and for those anxious for digital issues to occupy part of the policy debate during the campaign (myself included), we got our wish. The document identifies the digital economy as one of its three key areas for economic growth and features eight principles that includes broadband for all, bridging the digital divide, copyright, and an Open Internet.
At the start of the campaign, I highlighted ten digital economy questions that need answers and the Liberals have taken a good step at answering many of them. There is still need for greater detail, but at least they’ve put forward something to debate. By contrast, Industry Minister Tony Clement quickly tweeted that the Liberal document “borrows” from his digital strategy, yet unless I missed a press release, no Conservative digital strategy has been made public. There has been a digital economy strategy consultation, the creation of a government department within Industry Canada, a speech on a strategy that provided preliminary views, and elements of what will likely form the strategy (ie. open government), but none of these are the strategy itself. If Clement believes it borrows from his unreleased strategy, that only emphasizes how the issue is non-partisan and should be prioritized by all parties.
With respect to the strategy itself, perhaps its most significant aspect was the promise to use the revenues from the forthcoming spectrum auction to facilitate broadband access in underserved areas. In fact, sources advise that the commitments to fund CBC/Radio-Canada and the Canada Council for digital content creation will also come from spectrum revenues. Given that the auction is expected to generate billions of dollars, this is very significant. The revenues from the last spectrum auction went to general revenues (critics argue it went to the automotive industry). A commitment to use the spectrum revenues for purposes directly related to connectivity, culture, and the digital economy is an important step forward and helps ensure that new initiatives need not come out of tax revenues. It will be interesting to see if the Conservatives and NDP make a similar commitment.
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