Publié par le sénateur Dennis Dawson le 14 mars 2011
Cet article est disponible dans la langue officielle dans laquelle il a été redigé.
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Internet and new telecommunication technologies are growing in importance in our society. Just recently, the public reaction to the CRTC decision to end unlimited internet services showed us the importance of the World Wide Web in the lives of Canadians. This reaction is also a prime example of concerns Canadians have towards prices and access to internet and other new telecommunication technologies in the country.
These concerns are legitimate. Indeed, Canada has had historically a long record of accomplishments in the field of telecommunications. Whether it is from the invention of the telephone to being the first country in the world to connect all its schools to the internet, Canada has been a world leader in telecommunications. But this leading position is now at stake. Other countries have been more dynamic and successful in creating a digital national network.
Following these concerns and the new international challenges, the Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications undertook a study on the matter and published last year its report plan for a digital Canada.
The first and main recommendation of the report was the creation of a comprehensive digital strategy. More than 20 countries around the world already have digital strategies. Estonia is probably one of the best examples of this. Ninety-three per cent of the people in Estonia do their income tax on the internet. They pay their parking metres with their cellphones. They basically have access to every service from the government with a digital signature that gives them open access to their files, whether in health, education, or government enterprises. The Estonian policy includes recognition of the importance of the private sector, the involvement of all government agencies, and the development of support programs, for digital literacy, in particular.
Creating a digital society will be key in the competitiveness of nations in the upcoming years. It is important to note here that the wording "digital society" is broader than "digital economy." A digital society integrates all social spheres, such as the health sector. Just two weeks ago, I met with representatives of the Canadian Medical Association. They outlined their concerns regarding information technology in health care. Canada ranks amongst one of the last OECD countries in terms of digital medical files and computers in hospitals. This needs to change.
While we are waiting for a digital plan here, the world is moving forward. France issued France Numérique 2012, the U.K. published Digital Britain, and Australia is investing billions in bandwidth infrastructure. The plan in Estonia, implemented 10 years ago, gave enormous competitive advantage to the country, thus helping its successful membership to the European Union. Not only all these countries have a plan, but they also designated a minister responsible for implementing it. In Canada, we have been waiting for over 10 years for our different ministers "responsible" for the digital society to present a comprehensive plan for Canada.
The study also focused on the wireless sector. Throughout its hearings, the committee found this sector to be a major concern for most witnesses. The primary issue was the extent of competition within this industry. During the study, various stakeholders often pointed out that Canada's wireless model is not competitive enough. Not only does this model not provide consumers with choices, it also does not foster competitive behaviour in the industry. Competitive behaviour is the key to development and innovation.
The committee recommended that the government adopt policies on free access to telecommunication infrastructures in order to enhance competition in this sector. Liberalized foreign ownership rules and free access to infrastructure are two examples of concrete actions that could make the industry stronger and more competitive.
The recent Federal Court ruling invalidating the Cabinet decision to allow Globalive to operate in Canada is a good example of the importance of the committee's recommendations. The report strongly argued in favour of liberalization and free access to foreign ownership, but in my view, it should be done with a comprehensive and integrated plan, to ensure the consistency of this new digital society.
The committee has asked for a government response to its report. The response is expected for March 25 at the latest. In the meantime, I invite you to visit the site planforadigitalcanada.ca for more information about the report and its recommendations. I do personally hope that the government will present a plan for a digital society in Canada. I believe that a competitive environment benefits not only to consumers, but also to the overall economy. This digital strategy will be the key to face the economic and social challenges of the 21st Century.
Quebec Liberal Senator Dennis Dawson is chair of the Senate's Transport and Communications Committee.