Free access to government data and equitable access to the internet itself are key to a prosperous digital economy, say many of those who took part in recent federal consultations.
For two months, the government has been seeking public input on its strategy for a digital economy.
Access and openness were recurring themes in the ideas gathered during online consultations that ended Tuesday.
The government specifically requested submissions and ideas dealing with five themes, although many overlapped with at least one other. Areas covered were:
- Digital skills.
- Canada's digital content.
- Digital infrastructure.
- The information and communications technology industry.
- Innovation using digital technology.
"It's clear a lot of thought has gone into this input," Industry Minister Tony Clement said in a statement posted on the consultation website. "Once we have reviewed all of the public input, as well as the results of meetings with industry as well as federal, provincial, and territorial representatives, we will develop an action plan for regaining Canada's leadership as a digital economy."
He did not provide a specific timeline, but suggested Canada would take about the same time as other countries, who have typically developed strategies in six to 18 months.
According to the government, more than 2,000 Canadian individuals and organizations registered to take part in the forums. About 160 formal submissions were posted on the website. In addition, there dozens of informal submissions came through the site's ideas forum, where registered users were invited to rate and comment on them.
Several participants advocated free public access to government data collected by agencies such as Statistics Canada.
"Open access stimulates research and IT sectors who will have the resources they need for the creation of new data R&D products and services, evidence based decision making , and informing public policy on a number of key Canadian issues," wrote Tracey Lauriault, who blogs about open government on civicaccess.ca and datalibre.ca.
Prof. Michael Geist of the University of Ottawa, a Canada research chair in internet and e-commerce law, noted that openness has been a guiding principle in "many strategy documents," including New Zealand's digital strategy.
Access to the internet and wireless communications was emerged as a big concern. Many submissions said access to broadband is still spotty in rural areas, putting rural residents at a disadvantage.
A number of submissions advocated making more wireless spectrum available and boosting competition.
"The Digital Economy of 2020 and beyond will run largely on a wireless highway," wrote Deloitte Canada. "Our highway has too few lanes for the traffic of the future. The government can more aggressively release spectrum for mobile data, which will spur innovation, once again at minimal cost."
Other submissions advocated:
- Requiring researchers supported by taxpayers to make the published results of their research freely available within six months.
- Government use of open-source software.
- Public ownership of internet infrastructure.
- Wider access to broadband and Wi-Fi.
- Net neutrality or "unencumbered" access to communication networks, without preference to certain types of content.
- Continued support for community access to free or affordable internet.
- Having the government act as a model user of digital technologies, in its interaction with the public and businesses.
- Better incentives and support for early-stage technology businesses, including venture capital and funding that targets marketing and sales.
Voices from the consultation
"Government at all levels should follow the example of the Meteorological Service of Canada in making information freely available so as to support increased productivity and to encourage the development of new digital economy products and services. … Unencumbered access to communication networks is a key element necessary to encourage the creation and use of digital content. Strong measures are needed to ensure there is no undue preference to distributor controlled digital content or that unaffiliated digital content is not unduly disadvantaged by communication networks." — Pelmorex Media Inc., owner of the broadcasting licence for The Weather Network
"Canada can increase the visibility and impact of its research by requiring all researchers supported by the Canadian taxpayer to make the published results of their research (and research data), freely available to everyone, everywhere, with an embargo period of no more than 6 months."— hgmorrison
"Government services should be as easy to interact and transact with online as common consumer services." — Information Technology Association of Canada
"An ongoing challenge for many British Columbians and for UBC … is the inconsistent quality and capacity of internet connectivity, especially in rural and remote regions. As long as this inequality of access exists, Canadians living in underserved areas, such as rural and remote communities, will continue to be disadvantaged in terms of access to information and opportunity to engage fully in the digital economy and society." — University of British Columbia
"The digital economy strategy should continue to employ government subsidy programs in those pockets of the country where investment in broadband may be uneconomic."— Bell Aliant
"The government of Canada should subsidize internet speeds of at least 150 Mbps as a minimum for all Canadians to have access to. Let’s make sure all of our educational institutions are fully updated with the most up-to-date technology so that all Canadians would be willing to use such computers." — a1j2p8a1
"An existing and underutilized human resource is Canada’s women. Women are under-represented in ICT and other advanced technology sectors such as defense and security, and aerospace. … If the gender imbalance is correct in science and technology, the skills shortage will be addressed. If the gender balance is not corrected, Canada’s economic growth will be weakened." — Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance Women in ICT
"Industry and Government need to do more to help companies get investment ready and better attract foreign investors. Policies that penalize companies for accepting foreign investment must be reviewed and unnecessary barriers to foreign investment in Canadian Venture Funds removed." — BC Technology Industry Association