Monday, May 17, 2010

Participate in Shaping Canada's Digital Economy

Over a week ago Canada's federal government, led by Industry Ministry, released their Digital Economy Consultation to surprisingly little fanfare or resulting news coverage. Citizens have the next 52 days to offer their own ideas and/or vote on other ideas. Despite the opportunity to help guide our country's digital future, few Canadians are participating. The top items have no more than 55 votes.

Michael Geist's article Who's going to lead our digital strategy? provides more information and some of the key issues at stake. As well, read Hailey Eisen article for Backbone that covered the historical context leading to this effort.

I'm not sure why this isn't getting more coverage or participation. Is it cynicism? I am concerned that the government has not revealed how citizen contributions will be used. There is no word on any sort of binding nature of contributions (unlike the e-petition process in the U.K.) or how contributions are evaluated or even if they are heard at all Granted, some initial contributions are not all high calibre - some are repetitive, some are impractical, and some are beyond the scope of government. But I did read some good ideas and I'm sure there will be more to come.

I've jotted down below a few issues that I think are important to help improve our digital economy. Please disagree or let me know of others.

Ideas to Foster Canada's Digital Economy
  • help lower pricing for broadband Internet and mobile wireless access
  • improve access for remote, rural, and aboriginal areas
  • enforce net neutrality
  • aid the deployment of IPv6
  • help encourage Canadian companies to stay in Canada (as they inevitably seem to sell to American companies who immediately or gradually shut down Canadian operations)
  • foster innovation from unconventional sources - too many programs and events are directed at typical CEO types, despite that a lot, if not most, of the innovation in digital
  • media has not come from these types
  • mandate accessibility for disabled users
  • consider Canadian content restrictions online (see my online CanCon post)
  • funding for new content creation
  • continue to support - a digital media innovator
  • invest and help set-up post-secondary education in this area (i.e. no strong graduate Internet or mobile programs in Canada)
  • free e-learning on development and design topics (e.g. accessibility an example of how hard to do)
  • make this area a government department to ensure its continued importance and prominence
Although this focus is on Canada's economy, rather than government, I do think that Canada could spur innovation by modelling innovative use of e-government. The US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, and others are increasingly offering more forms of open, accessible, and participatory government through online means. Canada is falling behind. Showing Canadians and the world that we can be leaders in e-government would showcase and provide a roadmap for our digital future.

The project itself isn't a stellar example. The core functionality all works well, that is the ability to add an idea, comment, vote ideas up or down, and sort by most popular or recent. There is a lot of repetition that I'd like to see filtered out (acknowledging the technical and policy difficulties that would raise). There is the requisite video introduction by a government official but that's the extent of multimedia. A Twitter account and hashtag has been set-up (although both seem barely used), but that is the extent of social media integration or even promotion. I see zero signs of support for participating via mobile devices. A smartphone app would open up participation and be a great example of how participating in our digital future will look like.

Another problem is that there are not a lot of organizations in Canada that I'm aware of that are trumpeting these issues. OpenMedia is gearing up to lead the charge for net neutrality. From my past web accessibility research, I feel safe is saying no organization in Canada is effectively leading the charge for this issue.

I'm considering helping get an Internet Society chapter for Ontario going to make a formal submission. The government is also holding private consultations with the private sector and academia. So unless there are organizations representing the types of issues I raise above that I haven't heard of, if citizens don't participate to raise these issues and their profile, then who will?

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