On June 1st, 2016, at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, CIRA held its sixth annual Canadian Internet Forum: Broadband and the Modern Digital Economy. The forum brought together an estimated 150 participants (both in person and online) from civil society, the private sector, government, and the technical community. Participants on-site and online discussed and debated the integral role of quality, affordable, high-speed Internet and Canada’s competitive position in the global economy, with the goal of informing policy and Internet governance discussions in Canada and internationally.
Canadian journalist, David Akin moderated the day-long forum, which was made up of a keynote speech, and three panel presentations. There was active participation from the audience, both during the plenary sessions as well as in the facilitated table discussions.
The importance of Broadband to the digital economy
The forum began with the presentation of some important statistics. No business today is run without the help of information and communications technologies (ICTs). The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reports that 95 per cent of business enterprises among its 34 member countries had a broadband connection in 2014.i Broadband is an essential part of the digital economy, but also of the overall economy. Citizens rely on high-speed Internet to access basic services like healthcare and job training, as well as pertinent information that allows them to fully participate in democratic society. A 2016 survey conducted by CIRA and the Strategic Counsel found that “75 per cent of Canadian Internet users agree that having Internet access is critical for their ability to gain new skills.”ii
Despite this, at least five per cent of Canadian households lack access to quality high-speed Internet, which has previously been defined as 5Mbps download speed, a number that’s increasingly become moot as use of network functionality requires ever more bandwidth. Access globally is also a problem. The World Economic Forum reported in April of this year “some 4 billion people – more than 55% of the world’s population – do not use the Internet.”iii There is growing research to suggest that the widening digital chasm is contributing to an increased socio-economic divide within Canada and around the world.
“The quality of broadband and the price of broadband form the digital currency of this country,” said CIRA president and CEO Byron Holland in his opening remarks.
Countries that are more progressive and adopt ICTs and the Internet in a faster and more meaningful way see actual, material bumps in GDP,” Holland told the CIF audience. “This is not just theoretical... [ICT adoption] is critical for our overall economy.
Holland went onto say that “Canada doesn’t rank nearly as highly in all things Internet and broadband as we once did.” He challenged the forum presenters and participants to identify the key challenges to Canadian access and innovation, to put forth solutions that could be brought forward to the private sector, to governments at all levels, and presented on the international stage at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in December 2016.
i OECD (2015), OECD Digital Economy Outlook 2015, OECD Publishing, Paris. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264232440-en - page 132
ii FROM BROADBAND ACCESS TO SMART ECONOMIES - Technology, skills and Canada’s future CIRA 2016
iii Internet for All: A Framework for Accelerating Internet Access and Adoption, page 5