INDEPENDENT MEDIA by David Christopher
“It’s the economy, stupid!” That well-known political aphorism was first coined over 20 years ago by James Carville, a senior advisor to Bill Clinton.
The saying may be decades old, but it’s still applicable to our current federal election. “Who can save the economy?” blares a Maclean’s headline. “The economy is the most critical ballot-box issue facing Canadian voters,” intones the Globe and Mail, organizer of the recent leaders’ debate on – you guessed it – the economy.
Voters seem to agree. Users of CBC’s popular Vote Compass tool prioritized “the economy” far above other issues.Yet very little attention is being paid to the critical role our digital infrastructure plays in growing our wider economy. Ten years of failed government policies have left Canadians with a national digital deficit and a stark digital divide. And Canadians are paying the price; 44% of our lowest income households have no Internet access and over 30% don’t have a mobile phone.
Our sky-high Internet and wireless prices are a serious annoyance for middle-and high-income Canadians, but for low-income Canadians, they make Internet access literally unaffordable, sidelining millions of people from our digital future.
This government’s track record has left Canada falling behind. Their eagerly awaited Digital Canada 150 strategy, which was supposed to present a strong vision for the Internet, was a serious letdown. The strategy delayed the rollout of even 5 Mbps broadband across Canada for another four years, pushing the target to 2019, instead of 2015. Even by 2019, the government has only promised 98% coverage, leaving 700,000 Canadians behind.
It’s clear Canadians are feeling frustrated. OpenMedia community member Nic De Groot summed it up perfectly, “Canada: providing third world Internet service at first world price since the Internet began. It is tradition.”
It’s no wonder leading innovators and entrepreneurs are speaking out and calling for real action to fix our broken telecom market. These business people are at the leading edge of Canada’s digital economy and know first-hand the economic costs of government failures. Compounding these concerns is the government’s irresponsible approach to online privacy. Scandals about the activities of Canada’s spy agency (CSE) have undermined international confidence in our digital security. And the recent passage of Bill C-51 has many Canadian business leaders – including the heads of Slack, Hootsuite, and Shopify – warning how the legislation will “change Canada’s business climate for the worse.”
We need ambition. We need investment. We need privacy safeguards. And we need Canadians’ priorities to be taken seriously. That’s why OpenMedia recently launched a crowdsourced pro-Internet action plan – see https://ourdigitalfuture.ca/platform – that aims to ensure, quite simply, that every Canadian has affordable access to world-class, surveillance-free Internet.
The election is on October 19 and it’s never been more important for Canadians to speak up and demand politicians listen when it comes to our digital economy. Please visit ourdigitalfuture.ca/candidates and use our tool to message your local candidates and tell them to take a stand for a free and open Internet.
This election will shape our digital future for the coming decades. We don’t have a moment to lose.
David Christopher is communications manager for OpenMedia, a community-based group that works to safeguard the possibilities of the open Internet. OpenMedia.org