December came and went with no sign of the promised digital strategy. Meanwhile the U.S. has a plan approved by Congress and initiatives to develop next-gen applications

Still waiting for a digital strategy

When it comes to a national digital strategy, 2013 begins exactly as it did 12 months ago – with the country waiting for results.

It was May, 2010 when the Harper government announced its intention to create a plan to build a world-class broadband infrastructure for all Canadians which will enhance digital skills, boost Canadian-created digital content and help the nation compete against others who have already set lofty targets.

That plan was close to being announced when the Conservative government called an election in the spring of 2011.

Since then Industry Minister Christian Paradis  (pictured abovre) twice promised the digital strategy would be released by the end of 2012.

December came and went with no explanation from the minister on why he couldn’t reach his target.

This week the department’s director of communications was unavailable for comment and referred questions to Industry Canada’s media relations division.
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Most industry observers believe a digital strategy should include a national broadband speed goal which may or may not need government funding to ensure rural and northern parts of the country will have access to the same high speeds as urban areas.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has said telecom carriers should offer all Canadian households the ability to buy Internet access with download speeds at least 5 Mbps by 2015.

Today some cable carriers here offer 200 Mbps in a limited number of cities. However, some countries are thinking of building networks that can reach 1 Gbps in the near future so citizens can take advantage of services like telemedicine.

A digital strategy should also include ways the government will ensure there is enough wireless spectrum to meet expected demand, cybersecurity and open government.

Some of those elements have been partly address by the Harper government – for example, it has an open government policy. However, its cybersecurity plan was recently hammered by the auditor general.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has embarked on a digital strategy with several prongs. At the heart is a national broadband plan created in 2012 by the Federal Communications Commission – which combines the power of a telecommunications department and regulator – and approved by Congress.

The plan in part calls for accelerating broadband access and adoption for rural and low-income Americans; making an additional 500 MHz of wireless spectrum available for mobile broadband by 2020; and ways of fostering broadband competition; and the creation of a dedicated network for public safety workers like police and firefighters.

Not all of these involve the spending of public money (although the U.S. public safety network will be funded in part by monies from a spectrum auction).

For example, the U.S. Connect2Compete program is a non-profit organization aimed at helping carriers provide digital literacy training, discount Internet access and low-cost PCs for low-income citizens.

The Obama administration’s latest move was to support the creation last June of US Ignite, another non-profit with support from AT&T, Verizon, HP, Juniper Networks and others with the goal of creating 60 next-generation applications that can run on networks that offer speeds of up to 1 Gbps.

The apps will be focused on education, energy, health, public safety, transportation and advanced manufacturing. The private sector is providing all the funding for app development.
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It’s about “creating applications that Americans can use on the next-generation Internet to really transform the way they work and play,” said Jake Brewer, the agency’s communications leader.

The efforts are being pushed by American cities eager to have ultrafast broadband networks. For example, Seattle recently announced plans to develop gigabit Internet in 12 of the city’s neighbourhoods.
In December the FCC created a Health Care Connect Fund to help rural hospitals and medical clinics get access to high speed Internet.
 
Canada has certain jurisdictional obstacles the U.S. government doesn’t face — for example, education is the domain of the provinces, preventing federal funding for school districts here that the FCC is involved in. And while Ottawa has some jurisdiction in health care, the Harper government has been leaving it to the provinces.
 
Meanwhile in Canada we wait for our digital strategy.
 
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