IT360: Canada’s Networked Economy

Keith Parsonage, Director General of Industry Canada, gave a presentation this afternoon on the way ahead in Canada’s networked economy. A big part of this was stats and charts about mobile and internet usage, including the amazing figure that the world subscriber market for mobile phones is more than 3 billion people.

Canada has one of the highest rates of broadband penetration in the world, more than 70% even in rural areas, and over 90% in urban areas. We spend a lot of time online each month (especially in the winter), and Parsonage cracked a joke about that, wondering how much of that people are doing at work, seeming to ignore the fact that there are valid business reasons for using the internet at work. However, as he moves on, he talked about how ICT (information and communication technology) encourages our productivity, and we need to continue to invest in ICT in order to stay productive and competitive as a country.

Canada is home to world leaders in areas from communications (RIM) to computer animation (Alias, now part of Autodesk), but in spite of the growing demand for technically-trained people in the workforce, we’re seeing huge declines in undergraduate enrolment in IT-related degrees.

The Canadian government has had (and still has) a number of programs for promoting productivity and innovation in the ICT sector, and providing better access to information for more households and schools with 100% of our public schools and libraries connected to the internet.

Ultimately, this was a scripted, rehearsed speech that contained some interesting statistics about our ICT sector and Canadians’ use of technology, but came off feeling a bit like political propaganda. He also didn’t address two of the major impediments to innovation in our current networked economy: the excessively high price of wireless in Canada, where we pay more per GB (many times more) than just about any other country; and net neutrality, which is being threatened by the traffic throttling practices of Bell and Rogers, the duopoly that has their hands around the throats of the last mile of broadband as delivered to most Canadian homes and businesses. When I asked what Industry Canada is doing to address those particular issues, Parsonage gave (as expected) a bureaucratic response that didn’t answer the question in any way, in spite of his comment during his presentation that we need the ability to connect at broadband speeds in order to enhance competitiveness. Needless to say, the Q&A was cut off immediately after my question.

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