Commentary and feedback from participants

Obtaining feedback from a breadth of participants is one of the core objectives of the CIF. As well as providing commentary from the floor, each of the 20 tables at the CIF reviewed the subject matter, summarized key points and made recommendations based on their analysis in discussions facilitated by CIRA staff.

There was near consensus that the success of Canada’s digital economy relies on strategic direction and funding. Participants overwhelming argued for a long-term federal broadband strategy that would acknowledge the important of broadband access for full socio-economic participation of Canadians in the new digital economy. Having the proper infrastructure in place would form the backbone of a policy that would ultimately offer financial support to skills development, research and strategic partnerships that drive innovation.

“Infrastructure without education and economic incentives is incomplete,” said one participant.

A federal broadband strategy would rely on the following principles:

1. Broadband infrastructure and access are preconditions to innovation in the digital economy

Recognizing that broadband is the platform upon which innovation to drive economic growth will occur, universal access to broadband should be a priority of a national innovation strategy. This starts with an updated definition of minimum universal access, participants said, and should include financial incentives for private industry to help remote communities access affordable, quality networks.

Where the Internet ends, so does prosperity,” said participant Lynn Hamilton, president of the Internet Society, Canadian chapter. “The minute you have slow speeds, the minute you are not an innovator; you are not moving forward.

“If we only have slow speed, we can only have slow-speed ideas,” said one participant. But they also noted, that “we need to have enough for everybody before we focus on the speed thing.”

2. Collaboration is integral to innovation

A federal broadband strategy should foster the collaboration of individuals, the private sector, communities and different levels of government to champion innovation.

One participant spoke of “removing barriers to the little guys,” including eliminating regulatory red tape, and offering small start-ups access to seed money, venture capital and other private sector partnerships. Another noted that support of open source technology is a key component of innovation.

When you have your innovators and you’re not giving them access to the same tools the big guys have, you’re disabling the people who are really changing the industry and pushing the industry forward,” said one participant. The little guys will be “the disruptors, who will drive the industry forward but they require access to all the same tools that the traditional players.”

Participants noted the “Importance of discoverability and commercialization and getting [innovation] of silos.” Others recognized the potential of supporting local communities in setting up their own broadband networks. Coquitlam’s municipal network, QNet, was presented as an example of how municipalities are well-positioned to develop and administer local broadband. Another participant noted that a lot of innovation happens locally, where communities come together to solve a collective problem. She pointed to the example of an aboriginal group in Sioux Lookout, Ont. that launched KNet, as Canada’s first indigenous-owned broadband network. iv

3. A focus on lifelong skills and education

Participants broadly agreed that lifelong skills development and training should be the focus of a comprehensive digital broadband strategy, with federal programs and money available to people who take part in qualifying programs. Recognizing that it’s difficult to predict the precise skills that will be required in the future, some effort should be made to define and articulate skill requirements and what kinds of career paths are available for people if they attain these skills, participants said.

There was recognition that Canadian elementary and secondary schools are lacking access to the tools, resources and training required to raise the next generation of IT professionals. There was broad consensus that, despite education being under the jurisdiction of provincial governments, the federal government must take some kind of lead on overseeing IT education in schools across the country.

One participant suggested every school in the country have a “digital advocate,” a member of staff whose only responsibility is to coordinate IT resources and training.

Others noted that any education program must be socially inclusive, recognizing that certain parts of the population are being inadvertently excluded from the digital economy. Efforts should be made to breakdown gender bias to encourage the full and inclusive participation of women. This includes moving away from public campaigns that seek only to scare kids, disproportionately girls, away from the Internet, by overemphasizing cyberbullying and personal safety.

If parents are fearful, they’re not going to teach their kids to code.

iv “K-Net is a unique First Nations owned & operated ICT Service Provider leading the way for rural and remote First Nations of Ontario into the ever growing world of information communication technologies. Based out of Sioux Lookout, Ontario, K-Net materializes a wide range of capacity building services visualized by First Nations; such as cellular service, broadband connectivity, and online applications.”