What IT wants to hear on the campaign trail
There’s no doubt the economy will be one of the burning issues in as the federal election campaign starts, but leaders in the information and communications field say there’s a range of matters vital to the industry and the country that also must be debated.

They include forging a digital economic strategy, encouraging foreign investment in the telecom industry and improving ICT skills of students,

 “If all we hear about is the current hot topics, that should be a signal that the candidates and parties lack vision and will be reactive, not proactive in their policy development,” says telecommunications consultant Mark Goldberg. “That isn’t leadership.”

Here’s what others had to say:

Top on Goldberg’s list is a comprehensive vision for a digital economy.

“Given the level of analysis over the past few years — with the 2006 Telecom Policy Review Panel and the 2008 Red Wilson Competition Policy Review, together with last year’s consultations on foreign telecom investment and the digital economy, combined with the recent Anti-Spam bill and the soon-to-die Copyright Bill, and finally the recent parliamentary Industry committee review of wholesale high speed Internet access — it is hard to understand why we can’t have clear platform statements from each of the parties setting out their positions on telecom investment, telecom and broadcast regulatory reform, copyright reform, incentives for investment in telecommunications facilities and development of digital media.
“A comprehensive digital vision would include how we get connectivity to Canada’s lowest income earners, starting with ensuring all school aged children have access to computers with Internet at home; how we will develop digital literacy in under-represented segments; and increased measurements, reporting and tracking to objectives.”

The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA), which represents the country’s carriers and telecom equipment makers, wants to know if the leaders are willing to craft a comprehensive long-term plan for releasing wireless spectrum. In an email the association noted the U.S. has set out a plan to allocate 500 MHz of wireless spectrum over the next 10 years, identifying specific bands to be auctioned, and what the auction proceeds will be earmarked to cover.

David Ticol, executive director of the Canadian Coalition for Tomorrow’s ICT Skills, a public-private group promoting education, wants politicians to do something about the drop in enrolment in computer-related university courses.

“Canada’s future competitiveness depends on a digital skills strategy that goes beyond platitudes like ‘IT is cool,’” he wrote in an email “The strategy must be highly targeted, and deal with the real concerns of career choosers. It will be truly groundbreaking if this conversation becomes part of the election campaign.” 

While some want to hear how the leaders would build a digital strategy for the country, Duncan Stewart, director of Deloitte Canada Research for technology, media and telecommunications, isn’t one of them.

Promises to bring minimum broadband speeds to every household within a certain time period, as some countries have done, “may be good politics, but it’s not good policy,” he said. Inevitably megabytes become the focus of the debate, not substance.

If fact, he adds, debating the intricacies of a national digital strategy is too complex for a short election campaign.

What Stewart does want parties to detail is what they’d do help Canadian innovators raise early stage money to nurture young companies.

There’s a lack of access to venture or angel funding of between $1 million and $2 million, he said, meaning some promising companies can’t get off the ground. So, for example, he’d like to hear debate on whether Ottawa should adopt British Columbia’s tax credit for angel investors.

In short, “what would a government do to encourage Canadian innovators to leave universities to start up companies, to raise money to become bigger companies and to stay in Canada?”

The Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA), an industry group, says politicians should be explaining how they’d impose a more rigorous way to measure the economic success of government programs. 

In particular, it says the scientific research and experimental development tax credits under the National Research Council’s Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) aren’t tied tightly enough to commercial outcomes.

“This has been under review for two Ministers, and we still have no commitment to getting things done,” wrote Barry Gander, CATA’s executive vice-president.

“We need to get the government focused on commercialization rather than research, so business can become as competitive as possible.”

University of Ottawa Internet law professor Michael Geist wants voters to be aggressive. “I’d like to see Canadians vote for the Internet by asking candidates questions about our digital future,” he said. “These include competition around Internet services, privacy, and fair copyright that allows consumers to circumvent digital locks for non-infringing purposes.

(Let us know what you want candidates to address during the campaign by leaving a comment.)

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