Contrasting Telecommunities Canada’s digital society strategy with digital economy statements in Party Platforms,

April 12, 2011.

 

Going into the election, one question that served to focus TC’s concerns seemed to be:

We know our Internet infrastructure is outdated.  That's a big problem for creating local jobs in communities.  Prices too high; connections too slow; there are very few businesses that don't need cheap fast broadband.  Recognizing this, many countries have crafted national strategies to create infrastructure that delivers 100 mbps everywhere.  What will your party do about this issue?

 

We shaped the question that way, in part, because of our concern for open dialogue on the creation of a national strategy for the uses of the Internet for socio-economic development and political change. We also thought the reference to “local jobs” was a good hook.  That question is now dead.  The publication of the Conservative, Liberal and NDP Platforms, each including digital infrastructure strategies, supersedes it.  We now know how candidates will answer.   They will say, “See my Party’s Platform.”  But the question has assumptions behind it that won’t be satisfied by such an answer.

 

TC consistently expresses a set of core values for supporting daily life online including:

  1. Development in a digital economy is local.  It’s community development.

 

  1. Universal broadband coverage is not the same as universal capacity to use those technologies for development.  Community development capacity, and thus jobs, increases to the degree that the social serves sector increases horizontal collaboration on local digital inclusion programs.

 

  1. It’s the provinces that have the most direct involvement with the community-based organizations and institutions that act as delivery points for digital inclusion services.

 

  1. Community development capacity increases when municipalities own open fiber-optic networks.  So we need to work with provinces and municipalities to develop community-based broadband networks that are not reliant on the dominant ISPs.

 

  1. The practices of Internet governance resemble ecology, not property, and therefore continuation of the “market-based approach” to communications regulation and growth threatens the future of the Internet.

 

  1. Because development is local and Internet governance is ecology, a national strategy for the uses of the Internet for socio-economic development must evolve through a process of open and ongoing dialogue with all stakeholders, not just the private sector.

Here are those core values mapped to statements on the digital economy included in Party Platforms

Telecommunities Canada: Core Values

Conservatives: Digital Economy Strategy

Liberals: The Digital Canada of Tomorrow

NDP: Access to Broadband and a Robust Digital Economy

1. Community development

No

No

No

2. Digital Inclusion

Maybe[1]

Maybe[2]

No

3. Provincial e-development strategies

No

No

No

4. Municipal open network control

No

No

No

5. Internet governance ecology

No

Partly[3]

Partly[4]

6. Open dialogue on use

Consultation occurred on the National Digital Economy Strategy, but there’s no plan for an ongoing process

The process for developing the “Digital Canada” program is not stated

No

 

The Bloc Québécois Platform does have a statement addressing the need for provincial e-development strategies:

“16.2 Ensure the development of our regions: Access to broadband Internet service is essential for economic development and diversification of regional economies. The Bloc Québécois request the establishment of a plan for deployment of broadband in rural areas so that almost all individuals have access to high speed Internet throughout the inhabited territory of Quebec.”

 

That mapping illustrates a huge gap between TC’s and the Parties’ visions about the role of the Internet in social change.  It suggests that a political climate in which the benefits of community networking can be discussed does not yet exist.  It suggests effective political action on the part of TC requires much more than merely reframing a question for candidates.  TC’s primary mandate, its reason to be, is to share the practices of community networking.  Now, more than ever, Canada requires some kind of effective organization that can express the views, needs and interests of digitally literate and community minded people to the political parties, governments and the public at large. That’s still a job for community networks, whatever they’ve become.  But it’s a job that rarely gets done. How should TC revitalize itself in order to address its primary task?



[1] The tabled 2011 Budget planned on “also renewing the Community Access Program for an additional year." However the policy context for that CAP reprieve wasn’t clear.

[2] “A Liberal government will work with all partners to promote digital life skills and training, in particular for older Canadians and lower income families.”

[3] “To ensure it fosters the uninhibited exchange that innovation requires, Canada’s Internet environment must remain open.”

[4] “We will enshrine “net neutrality” in law.”  “We will rescind the 2006 Conservative industry-oriented directive to the CRTC and direct the regulator to stand up for the public interest ...”