i-Canada pushing ultra-broadband plan

With the long promised federal digital economy strategy nowhere in sight, a group of Canadian political, business and private sector leaders continues to push for an independent coalition to create the framework to build an ultra-broadband network.

The iCanada Alliance believes the country needs to offer the majority of residents Internet access with download speeds of at least 1 gigabits per second (Gbps) by 2020 – about 10 times faster than many Canadians can get now.

The group’s most recent effort to spread its message came last week when it met the chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which has the authority to set voluntary targets for Internet providers.

Two years ago the commission urged carriers to offer at least 5 Megabits per second (Mpbs) service to every household by 2015.

In an interview Monday i-Canada chair Bill Hutchison said the alliance’s meeting was to explain what it is doing to CRTC chair Jean-Pierre Blais. Blais has said he’d like to ensure Canadians have access to quality and innovative communications services at affordable prices, Hutchinson.

He added that the alliance didn’t ask the commission to endorse its efforts for a public-private sector broadband planning coalition.
(In a statement the commission said Blais “agreed with the growing importance of Internet access and affordability to Canadians and the Canadian economy.” Blais, the statement said, is interested in i-Canada’s work in trying to bring together many players.)
As for the Harper government’s promise to release a digital strategy, Hutchison shrugged. “I gave up on that one,” he said.

Besides, he added, he doesn’t believe in waiting for governments. “If you have a good idea, start a parade,” he said. “If it’s good, every politician will want to be part of it.”

Although the alliance isn’t seeking government backing for its coalition, Hutchison said it does want federal, provincial and local government participation.

Meanwhile, in a column published last week in Forbes magazine, Julius Genachowski the chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) – which has broader powers than the CRTC – challenged carriers and local communities there to build 1 Gbps testbed networks in every U.S. state by 2015.

Why the rush? “To maintain leadership in innovation,” Genachowski wrote, “we need to keep pushing for faster broadband networks.” Even though more than 80 per cent of U.S. homes have access to broadband networks offering 100 Mbps that isn’t fast enough, he said.

Hutchison believes the same.

The i-Canada Alliance encourages local governments to become intelligent communities. That’s not a cliché. The Intelligent Community Forum was formed over a decade ago to promote using technology for the betterment of citizens.

Every year it chooses an Intelligent City of the year. On Wednesday it will announce the seven finalists from 21 cities around the world. Previous Canadian winners include Calgary and Waterloo, Ont.

A co-founder of the CANARIE research and education broadband network, which links provincial and territorial research networks across the country, Hutchison says that generally intelligent communities have higher rates of innovation, investment and employment growth than others.

It’s not only about broadband, he says, but broadband is a foundation for new ways communities can deliver services.

According to international indexes, he says, Canada suffers from a lack of productivity, a lack ultra high speed broadband and high prices compared to other industrial nations, he said.

As for the alliance’s plan to create a grand coalition, Hutchinson doesn’t have an idea of how the goal of 1 Gbps for everyone would be achieved. But, he certain that “if we (a wide range of groups) really wanted to sit down and solve this issue we could come up with a great solution.”

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of ITWorldCanada.com and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including ITBusiness.ca and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@] soloreporter.com

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