Public consultations on Canada’s digital future

0 Posted by - May 10, 2010 - Blog, Policy, Screen, Sound

It’s Summer, and in Canada that means public consultation season – at least, it does for Stephen Harper’s Conservative government who like the (distracting and vacation-filled) summer for asking Canadians to get involved in public policy. And just like last year’s rushed copyright consultations, the Digital Economy Consultation (DEC) is happening inside a tight time frame. Canadians have 60 days to tell the government what they want for their digital future.

It will come as little surprise that the DEC is riddled with economic and market framing like “regaining leadership in the digital economy” and “improving productivity and competitiveness”. But don’t let the business rhetoric obscure the fundamental importance of Canada’s digital future for artists and activists – in fact, for every community in Canada. These are important policies and Canadians should tell the Conservatives what they want.

All right, all right – it’s pretty hard not to be cynical about the government’s openness to public input. But in recent CRTC hearings into community television policy, the national conversation was fundamentally shaped by a bold community initiative to build a network of local community media centers across Canada (much like local libraries) using community television resources. The DEC is a great opportunity to get some good ideas into the public conversation about digital technologies, cultural citizenship and democracy.

The call for participation asks for comments in five areas – innovation, infrastructure, economy, content and skills. So for example, under the category of “innovation” they ask (among other things): ** Should Canada focus on increasing innovation in some key sectors or focus on providing the foundation for innovation across the economy?

Net neutrality is of fundamental importance to the future of communications and culture in Canada and their democratic implications. Net neutrality should be a foundation for communications across the country.

Under “infrastructure”, they ask: 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?

Rural and remote communities whose sparse populations do not provide the market incentive for ISPs to build the pipes for broadband need to be supported and not abandoned. These include many First Nations communities and First People’s communities in Canada’s North, farming communities across the prairies, fishing communities on both coasts, etc. Canada should have a strategy for ensuring that all Canadians have adequate access skills and equipment necessary to participate in Canada’s digital future.

Under the category of “content” they ask the very exciting question: How can stakeholders encourage investment, particularly early stage investment, in the development of innovative digital media and content?

Woo-hoo! This is the question online media-makers have been asking over and over in the wake of massive transformations in the cultural industries. Digital technologies and networks have ushered in an era of proliferation of new media and independent cultural production. Canada’s newly hatched Canadian Media Fund recognizes the importance of online distribution and new media to Canadian culture. Independent media arts groups, alternative online media producers, non-profit and mandate driven news groups and filmmakers should have access to this $350 dollar pool of production money. The DEC is as good a time as any to make this case.

And finally under the “skills” component of the DEC, the Conservatives want to know: ** What do you see as the most critical challenges in skills development for a digital economy? ** What can we do to ensure that labour market entrants have digital skills? ** What is the best way to ensure the current workforce gets the continuous up-skilling required to remain competitive in the digital economy?

Aside from the weirdness of “up-skilling”, one response to this could be the CACTUS (Canadian Association of Campus and Community Television Users and Stations) proposal for 250 multiplatform community media centers (funded out of already existing community television funds) that would provide access for more than 90% of Canada’s population to the kinds of technical skills and facilities needed for participation in a digital networked public culture.

These are just some of the questions being asked and a few ideas in response to them. Check out the consultation guidelines at the DEC website. Also have a look at some of the ideas floating around in the “Ideas Forum” including free broadband wireless through municipal governments.

For more information about the DEC, net neutrality, or broadcast and telecommunications policy, check out OpenMedia.ca, a national coalition of individuals and groups interested in an open, accountable and democratic media system.

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