A new focus on innovation
The forum’s keynote speaker was Kelly Gillis, associate deputy minister of Canada’s newly named federal Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, formerly Industry Canada.
If we’re talking about innovation and doing things smarter, faster and better, we’re talking about the broadband Internet,” Gillis told the forum audience. “The Internet is the infrastructure that [Canada’s] innovation agenda will run on.
Identifying Challenges – Panel Presentations
Data presented in the first panel, “Broadband, ICTs and the evolving digital economy,” presented evidence that Canadians do not have equal access to high-speed broadband Internet, with huge discrepancies in available download speeds between rural and remote parts of the country and urban centres. Lack of access is a contributing factor to Canada’s decline as an innovation leader in international rankings, particularly in the area of mobile broadband penetration and cost. As Canada’s population ages and the workforce declines, the case for ICT adoption to boost individual and firm productivity takes on a renewed urgency in order to remain competitive in the digital economy.
In the second panel, “High-speed networks and innovative approaches to broadband delivery,” presenters and forum participants agreed that broadband is the integral infrastructure upon which ICT innovations will be developed. Traditional delivery methods of broadband are no longer sufficiant to get the job done, with bandwidth requirements ever-increasing in order to transfer immense amounts of data. Next generation networks will necessarily rely on cloud-based software to be administered efficiently. At the same time, the limitations of fibre in remote and rural areas of the country are bringing a new urgency in the race for spectrum acquisition and the establishment of near-earth satellites to maintain Canada’s competitive position internationally.
The third panel, “Broadband access and the skills gap,” highlighted that, in order to access and develop these technologies, Canada requires a skilled and adaptable IT workforce going forward. It’s anticipated there will be 200,000 IT jobs available in 2020, without the talent to fill them. The so-called “digital natives,” children that have grown up with connectivity and devices, are not graduating from secondary or post-secondary education with the ability to understand, create and manipulate new technologies. At the same time, Canada has seen a decline in “fundamental skills” in all age cohorts – literacy, numeracy and problem-solving –which are necessary to be adaptable and creative content creators. Panelists identified several “barriers to access,” which are disproportionately excluding women, First Nations, low-income groups and older Canadians from participating in the digital economy.