Canada Launches Digital Economy Consultation

After what appears to be the governments own undoing for launching a copyright consultation and ignoring the results, the Canadian government is now launching a second consultation on Canada’s Digital Economy. We weigh the pros and cons of submitting a response.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

It’s a big internet world out there. Now the Canadian government wants to know how to handle the digital economy. The government has a website that’ll take submissions. Here’s the topics being brought forth:

1. Overcoming Underinvestment in Information and Communications Technologies
2. Governments as Model Users
3. Protecting the Online Marketplace

So the questions the government has are these:

Set 1 questions:

1. Should Canada focus on increasing innovation in some key sectors or focus on providing the foundation for innovation across the economy?
2. Which conditions best incent and promote adoption of ICT by Canadian businesses and public sectors?
3. What would a successful digital strategy look like for your firm or sector? What are the barriers to implementation?
4. Once anti-spam legislation, and privacy and copyright amendments are in place, are there new legislative or policy changes needed to deal with emerging technologies and new threats to the online marketplace?
5. How can Canada use its regulatory and policy regime to promote Canada as a favourable environment for e-commerce?

set 2 questions:

1. What speeds and other service characteristics are needed by users (e.g., consumers, businesses, public sector bodies and communities) and how should Canada set goals for next generation networks?
2. What steps must be taken to meet these goals? Are the current regulatory and legislative frameworks conducive to incenting investment and competition? What are the appropriate roles of stakeholders in the public and private sectors?
3. What steps should be taken to ensure there is sufficient radio spectrum available to support advanced
infrastructure development?
4. How best can we ensure that rural and remote communities are not left behind in terms of access to advanced networks and what are the priority areas for attention in these regions?

Set 3 questions:

1. Do our current investments in R&D effectively lead to innovation, and the creation of new businesses, products and services? Would changes to existing programs better expand our innovation capacity?
2. What is needed to innovate and grow the size of the ICT industry including the number of large ICT firms headquartered in Canada?
3. What would best position Canada as a destination of choice for venture capital and investments in global R&D and product mandates?
4. What efforts are needed to address the talent needs in the coming years?

Set 4 questions:

1. What does creating Canada’s digital content advantage mean to you?
2. What are the core elements in Canada’s marketplace framework for digital media and content? What elements do you believe are necessary to encourage the creation of digital media and content in both official languages and to reflect our Aboriginal and ethnocultural communities?
3. How do you see digital content contributing to Canada’s prosperity in the digital economy?
4. What kinds of ‘hard’ and/or ‘soft’ infrastructure investments do you foresee in the future? What kinds of infrastructure will you need in the future to be successful at home and abroad?
5. How can stakeholders encourage investment, particularly early stage investment, in the development of innovative digital media and content?
6. How can we ensure that all Canadians, including those with disabilities (learning, visual, auditory), will benefit from and participate in the Canadian digital economy?

Set 5 questions:

1. What do you see as the most critical challenges in skills development for a digital economy?
2. What is the best way to address these challenges?
3. What can we do to ensure that labour market entrants have digital skills?
4. What is the best way to ensure the current workforce gets the continuous up-skilling required to remain competitive in the digital economy? Are different tactics required for SMEs versus large enterprises?
5. How will the digital economy impact the learning system in Canada? How we teach? How we learn?
6. What strategies could be employed to address the digital divide?

Final set of questions:

1. Should we set targets for our made-in-Canada digital strategy? And if so, what should those targets be?
2. What should the timelines be to reach these targets?

All submissions are required to have a 250- to 500-word summary and up to a 5000-word (10 page) submission. The summaries will be uploaded as text (cut and paste), and the submission can be made in a text-only format or as a document upload (e.g., Word, RTF or WordPerfect formats). Please carefully review our full submission guidelines and our terms of use to ensure your submission meets our requirements and site usage policies.

One rule that sticks out is, “Duplicate or highly similar submissions may not be posted or may be posted to a separate category or section of the website.”

It’s not clear if that means form letters or one user submitting multiple duplicate submissions. One hopes its the latter.

One thing that’s immediately clear is that this consultation quite large in terms of reading material compared to the copyright consultation. Very few people are willing to read a huge 40 page document first before acting, though that might be the governments way of screening out as many submissions as possible. It’s a common tactic to “thin the herd” so to speak for many institutions.

A good way to tackle so many questions with such a little amount of space (10 pages/5000 words) is to lump several questions in to one in order to save space. Another tactic is to simply answer some questions, but not all. An additional good way to tackle this is to keep the answers surrounding “what does this mean to you” down to a small paragraph or even a few sentences. The consultation asks for a summary of your comments, so an excellent strategy is to leave this step to last. Once you get your thoughts down, write a summary of what you just said and put that at the beginning of your submission. This will alleviate any potential problems of, “How am I going to summarize what I’m going to say” (though I note that this strategy is not for everyone)

As Michael Geist rightfully notes, many Canadians are wondering if their voices will be heard now after what happened with the copyright consultation.

We spoke to someone who works for the government about what happened with the copyright consultation and he laughed and said that this sort of thing happens all the time. He told us that the government will do what it wants to do. Sometimes, the government has already decided what it wants to do long before the questions for the consultation was written. The consultation process is little more than a political opportunity. If the consultation goes their way, then they can say, “See? We did exactly what Canadians wanted!”

So this has us thinking, is it really worth it to make a submission to the consultation when the government probably has their mind already made up? The answer we came down to was “yes” for the simple reason that it takes away any political edge they may have. If Canadians don’t make submissions and a few corporate entities argue that network neutrality must come to an end, then the government can say, “Well, Canada wants us to end network neutrality, so that’s what we should be doing.” They intended to do this anyway, but if hundreds of submissions defends network neutrality, they can’t really make that assertion.

Ultimately speaking, Canadians should make submissions voicing their concerns. Skim through the questions and find the ones that resemble their interests and tack on their responses to that. One can read the submission guidelines, but beware, it’s a long read. The deadline is July 9, 2010.

Now, if you’re thinking that this is a lot to go through, this was all taken from a 40 page document (PDF – also in HTML format) The punchline? Their first rule says this:

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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