Digital Strategy Aims To Boost High-Speed Internet Connectivity

Digital Strategy Aims To Boost High-Speed Internet Connectivity

WATERLOO — The federal government’s multimillion-dollar strategy to support the digital economy was unveiled Friday in Waterloo at the country’s biggest software company — Open Text Corp.

Industry Minister James Moore said he wanted to make the announcement in what he called the technology hub of Canada.

“BlackBerry-RIM, Open Text, Communitech, University of Waterloo, the legacy here is great,” Moore said.

The first objective of the strategy is to have 98 per cent of Canadians linked to high-speed internet at five megabytes a second at a cost of $305 million, but Moore acknowledged that there is no policy to help low-income households pay for those connections.

The government noted that internet connections at five megabytes a second support e-commerce, high-resolution video, employment opportunities and distance education. The plan will bring high-speed web connections to 300,000 rural Canadians, but in response to reporters’ questions, Moore agreed that it won’t help the one million urban Canadians who can’t afford high-speed connections.

The other four pillars of the strategy — called Digital Canada 150 because the country will celebrate its sesquicentennial in 2017 when they are supposed to be implemented — include protecting the privacy of Canadians online, expanding economic opportunities, increasing the government’s internet services and bolstering Canadian content on the web.

“These are all funded. These are things that are contained in the budget. These are all things that are actually going to happen,” Moore said.

In the last five years, the federal government sifted through more than 3,000 submissions for Digital Canada 150 and came up with 39 initiatives.

“We have thought about this long and hard, what we have here is ambitious but not controversial, and I think it will be very well received,” Moore said.

The strategy calls for spending $200 million to help small- and medium-sized businesses, $300 million for venture capital for digital companies, $40 million for 3,000 internships, $100 million for business accelerators and incubators and $36 million to repair and refurbish computers for public libraries, nonprofits and First Nations.

Moore said there is no question some of the money will flow into Waterloo Region because of the critical mass of technology talent here.

“There is more money coming, more investment,” Moore said of this region.

Changes to privacy laws will require companies to tell consumers immediately about security breaches involving their credit cards or personal information.

“They have to tell them about the mitigation they are putting in place to protect the information, and they have to inform the privacy commissioner,” Moore said.

The privacy commission will have the authority to release the names of companies that are sloppy about privacy and levy fines.

The federal government plans to change how it provides services online. Too much is aimed at people who are using $350 laptops, Moore said, adding that someone with a $1,000 smartphone cannot read the tiny print.

Consumers also will be given more choice about the television channels they receive and there will be new limits on domestic mobile phone roaming charges.

“It is a fact in the digital age that people want what they want, when and where they want it, on the platform they want,” Moore said.

“Those who want to try to cling to the status quo and beg the government to stop the modernization of the digital world are pushing against a closed door with me,” he said.

Open Text chief executive officer Mark Barrenechea called Ottawa’s digital strategy thoughtful, comprehensive and achievable.

“It has $700 million in initiative dollars behind it, so I am extremely impressed,” he said.

While it is hard to pick out one part of the strategy that will have the biggest impact, Barrenechea said connecting 98 per cent of the country with reliable, secure, high-speed internet service has endless possibilities.

“I am pretty interested in that,” he said.

Barrenechea leads a corporation of 8,200 employees that provides secure, cloud-based, business-to-business file sharing and communications.

“He could have picked anywhere in Canada to make the announcement, he chose Waterloo, which shows the importance of the innovation centre here,” Barrenechea said.

Open Text will see $7 trillion in business transacted through its networks in 2014 and cybersecurity is a huge issue.

“We are attacked every day — every single day,” Barrenechea said. “We have operations in 40 countries, network access points in 40 countries around the world and we are attacked every single day.”

Making the web more transparent and accountable will make it more secure, he said.

“Because when there are no repercussions and no visibility as to where the attacks are coming from, they are just going to keep attacking,” Barrenechea said.

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