Industry Canada forks over more broadband money

Industry Minister Allan Rock on Wednesday announced that the government would contribute $60 million in a three-year partnership initiative to help bolster Canada’s Internet-enabled communications.

Industry Canada will be partner with Mitel Networks Corp. and March Networks Corp. as part of the $240 million undertaking. Through Technology Partnerships Canada, the government said it is launching an aggressive research and development program, to be undertaken by the two firms. The Government of Canada, through Technology Partnerships Canada, will contribute 25 per cent of the combined research and development spending of Mitel and March Networks.

The investment has the potential to create nearly 900 jobs, of which 442 would commence during the research and development phase and 441 in the commercialization phase.

“It clearly demonstrates the Government of Canada’s strong commitment to taking bold steps to encourage development in our IT sector,” Minister Rock said.

Mitel Networks, a provider of Internet Protocol (IP) communications products and IP applications, has been a staple in Ottawa’s high-tech industry. March Networks, also an Ottawa-based company, provides broadband IP services such as video security and healthcare solutions.

The project is intended to speed up the adoption of broadband multimedia communications via the hardware that is able to converge voice, video and data over a high-speed network. But as many in IT already know, broadband, while not exactly a commodity to all Canadians, is now only seen as a technology enabler for future applications. Without the availability of applications and data to ride across networks, high-speed broadband is seen as a wasted commodity.

The $60 million investment is a positive sign that the government is serious about broadband and the total numbers allocated to broadband is now somewhere around the $100 million mark- still falling well short of the $1 billion that had been previously promised by the government.

But one industry observer noted that the contribution is still significant.

“To a degree, it reinforces [the government] is serious about the broadband agenda, which is more than just the technology. Broadband is a tool to bring a host of economic and social benefits (but) without the applications that ride on it, it is but a technology,” said Norine Heselton, vice-president for the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) in Ottawa.

Heselton added that it is more useful to think about the potential applications that could be introduced, such as telehealth, tele-education, governance and electronic democracy rather than the technology itself.