Last week, members of the CIRA team crossed the country attending consultations as part of the Canadian Internet Forum (CIF), a CIRA-led initiative to talk to Canadians about their views on the role of the Internet in their lives and the economy.
With the help of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and the Media Awareness Network (MNet) we’ve talked about the Internet, its future, how it is developing and who is – and, who should be – governing it. We’ve consulted with government representatives, the private sector, education leaders, community organizations, and Internet users (among many, many others). We hosted six consultations (Winnipeg, Halifax, Iqaluit, Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver), three exploring the theme of the digital economy and three the theme of digital literacy.
What have we learned?
As large and diverse as Canada is, there are many issues Canadians share with regard to the Internet: broadband access and cost, online safety and Canada’s international digital ranking top the list. IPv6 proved to be a real concern for many participants (perhaps due to CBC Spark’s great report that aired the weekend before most of the consultations).
That’s not to say that there aren’t regional differences in what Canadians have to say. Participants in the Iqaluit consultation were the only ones who mentioned satellite technology as an issue. In Winnipeg, we learned about the increasingly important role the Internet in playing in the agricultural industry. And, in Montreal, participants agreed Canada could be taking a real leadership position in Internet issues, and noted how digital competencies are more and more critical to citizenship. Torontonians talked a lot about innovation and a vision for the future of the digital economy (a philosophical bunch, I’m told).
Most importantly, in my opinion, what we’ve learned is that Canadians are engaged, interested and motivated in talking about issues of Internet governance. It’s often the conversations that happen after consultations that are the most enlightening. If people are interested, they’ll hang around for a while and talk with each other and the facilitators. This happened at every consultation.
We were told at every single meeting that the CIF should carry on in one form or another. The issues are just too important and the Internet changes too rapid to not keep the dialogue going. I agree.
In a blog post last week, I mentioned that I thought we – those of us that work in the Internet governance world – haven’t done a great job in communicating how important these issues are to the people they impact. It’s clear that the Internet affects nearly every Canadian, from the Inuit carver who sells his art online to the grain farmer in Manitoba whose combine is connected to the ‘net to the bankers on Bay Street who conduct multi-million dollar transactions over the Internet every day.
In a way, with the CIF, we’re putting out a challenge to others involved in Internet governance around the globe. We don’t own the Internet, and we don’t have any special monopoly over it. The Internet, from its inception has been governed by the grassroots. Nobody foresaw its incredible growth and influence – it is now the most pervasive and important technology the world has seen in decades (if not centuries), and touches the lives of almost every Canadian. Knowing that, we must ensure that they are included – in one way or another – in the decision-making processes about how the Internet is run. It’s our responsibility as the ‘leaders’ of the ‘net to ensure this happens.
With the CIF, we’re doing our best to engage Canadians in dialogue; we’re trying to meet Canadians where they are, all in an effort to be better informed as one of the organizations on the inside of the Internet governance world. We will take what we learn from Canadians as a result of the CIF to the international Internet governance fora in which we participate – ICANN], the UN’s IGF, and so on. This information will inform our positions at these fora, and will provide the evidence for policy decisions.
On a somewhat related note, Industry Minister Tony Clement presented an update on the development of Canada’s Digital Economy Strategy today. You might remember that Industry Canada held a national consultation on the digital economy in the early summer of 2010. Numerous people and organizations submitted their views on what the digital economy strategy should look like. In our submission (.PDF), CIRA made 19 recommendations, including calling on the federal government to take a lead role in IPv6 adoption and to develop an emergency response team, capable of responding to events involving the Internet.
The update was short on specifics, but dropped a few hints at the direction the government is taking. Minister Clement announced a federal, provincial/territorial meeting of economic development ministers in early 2011 to explore intergovernmental collaboration on digital issues such as skills development and the availability of broadband in rural and remote areas. Also, the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) will make Information and Communications Technology adoption among its clients a strategic focus – at first glance an interesting strategy to stimulate digital innovation in Canada, though I’d like to see some details.
We will have to wait until we hear the full strategy in May 2011 to see where Minister Clement wants to take Canada’s digital economy. In the meantime, let’s keep talking about Internet governance.