On April 4, 2014, Industry Minister James Moore unveiled “Digital Canada 150,” a comprehensive digital policy (click on TEXT of SPEECH and POLICY DOCUMENT). The Government describes the issuance of Digital Canada 150 as the culmination of its public online consultations held over three years ago (in 2010). The Government reviewed 250 submissions from more than 2,000 Canadians who registered to participate in the online consultation.
There are a multitude of issues addressed in the Digital Canada 150 Policy, classified under “five pillars”: “Connecting Canadians,” “Protecting Canadians,” “Economic Opportunities,” “Digital Government” and “Canadian Content.” The policy spans a broad range of issues including television unbundling, roaming rate caps, high speed Internet access in remote/rural areas, online privacy and anti-spam.
However, much of Digital Canada 150 is not new. Rather, the Government has used this announcement to summarize previous initiatives taken in the area of digital policy, with some hints of future directions.
The Government has framed the Digital Canada 150 Policy by reference to two categories, “What We’ve Done” and “What’s New." Among the key elements of the Policy are:
“What We’ve Done”
- The Government concluded the 700 MHz spectrum auction, enabling at least four players in every region of the country to provide all Canadians with dependable, high-speed wireless services on the latest technologies.
- Under its “use it or lose it” policy, the Government did not renew the licences of companies holding 2300 and 3500 MHz spectrum licences, potentially making the spectrum available to other proposed uses.
- Measures such as spectrum caps on incumbents have enabled access to spectrum for new entrants in recent and upcoming auctions for wireless airwaves, thus fostering more competition.
- In 2013, the Government issued its Spectrum Licence Transfer Framework Policy, which confers on the Minister of Industry broad discretion to review proposed spectrum licence transfers “to ensure that consumers continue to benefit from competition in the wireless sector.”
- The Government expanded the requirements for wireless companies to provide roaming services to other companies.
The Government strengthened the rules requiring carriers to share existing cell towers to reduce the need for more towers across Canada.
- The Government liberalized foreign investment rules for smaller companies in the telecommunications sector.
- Digital Canada 150 will connect over 98% of Canadians to high-speed Internet with speeds of at least five megabits per second. This means that an additional 280,000 households, mostly in rural and remote communities, will have access to high-speed Internet for the first time.
- The Government will strengthen the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act “to better protect the online privacy of all Canadians.”
- The Government’s anti-spam law comes into force July 1, 2014 aimed at “protecting Canadians from malicious online attacks.”
- The Government will work with the CRTC to develop a plan to unbundle television channels and ensure cable and satellite providers offer Canadian consumers the option to pick and choose the combination of television channels they want. (The accompanying text of the Minister’s speech is more forceful: “We will unbundle TV packages, so consumers can pick and choose the combination of channels they want”).
- The Government is committed to reducing roaming costs on networks within Canada, preventing wireless providers from charging other companies more than they charge their own customers for mobile voice, data and text services. (The accompanying text of the Minister’s speech is more forceful: “We will cap domestic roaming fees on networks in Canadians to increase competition and lower prices for consumers”).
- The Government will continue to apply Canada’s Spectrum Licence Transfer Framework Policy to all licence transfers to ensure consumers benefit from more competition in the wireless sector.
- The Government will introduce enforcement measures to increase consumer protection in the telecommunications sector by giving regulators (presumably the CRTC and the Minister of Industry) the ability to impose monetary penalties against companies that violate rules such as those for wireless services, spectrum use and cellphone towers.
As noted earlier, Digital Canada 150 is to a large extent a summary of the Government's previous initiatives. Some have argued that we continue to lack a clear "vision" for a digital Canada, which would involve a more collaborative approach among partners from the private sector, governments, not-for-profits and academics with a view to a unified national digital policy.