Infrastructure: A Look at ICT

As the Canadian economy evolves, the country’s infrastructure needs are moving beyond roads, bridges and sewers to digital infrastructure such as information and communications technology (ICT), including internet backbone, broadband, mobile telecommunications technology and more. Before the Bell assembled a panel of industry and government stakeholders to discuss what Canada’s ICT needs are when it comes to building the next phase of our economy.

Ihor Korbabicz, executive director of Abacus Data, said that in a poll of Canadian millennials, 93 per cent rated a smartphone as necessary to their quality of life, as compared to 88 per cent who rated a car as necessary. Eighty-six per cent of all Canadians rated the internet as being crucial to Canada’s economic prospects over the long term — more than immigration or automation.

During the Pulse panel, hosted by David Akin, Greg Weston, principal at Earnscliffe Strategy Group, noted that Parliament has been promising action on rural broadband since at least 2001.

“The auditor general last year put all of these [past studies] together and said for all of the agreement in them, virtually nothing in terms of action had changed, that nobody had come up with a national broadband strategy, much less implemented it,” said Weston. “Part of the reason is that for all of the focus, it was money and the cost of funding this.”

Joanne Stanley, executive director of Women in Communications and Technology (WCT), said that access to broadband helps foster innovation and entrepreneurship in young women, particularly in northern communities.

“In the context of distribution of digital infrastructure into rural communities, it’s good for the country that we do that,” said Stanley. “It allows young, talented people outside of major centres to be part of the innovation structure to start companies. It’s important to us from a competitive perspective.”

Craig Stewart, vice-president of federal affairs for the Insurance Bureau of Canada, said that at the C-suite level, businesses should be thinking about their exposure as well as the opportunities that come with increased digital infrastructure.

“Whole businesses and their viability are now relying on inoculating themselves,” said Stewart. “When you can get a phishing attack that looks like it’s coming from your boss or your best friend…it’s scary because they actually know who your contacts within your organization are.”

During the Policy segment, hosted by Catherine Clark, Colin Earp, partner and national transport lead at KPMG, said that society is reorienting itself around the ability to communicate through digital means, and is moving toward allowing systems to make decisions for us.

“Digital has a social equity dividend,” said Earp. “Autonomous vehicles have a safety dividend. When we’re talking about autonomous vehicles, we’re talking about a $22 trillion trend going forward. Canada has all of the right ingredients.”

Cara Salci, national director of public affairs and communications with Thales Canada, said that companies are investing in connectivity, Big Data, artificial intelligence, and cyber-security, and that industry can help backstop government delivery of those technologies.

“As the government is grappling with the regulatory and policy development of some of these topics, industry can help build the case as for a certain technology and how it’s working,” said Salci. “Closing the digital divide between remote and rural communities can really leave a legacy for the next generation so that they are connected.”

Carole Saab, executive director of policy and public affairs for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, said that municipalities are dealing with the on-the-ground challenges around things like “smart cities,” and that can include figuring out how to implement new technologies over the existing built infrastructure.

“If you look at smaller municipalities in rural and remote areas, the face of this challenge is a lot different,” said Saab. “It’s about achieving access to adequate broadband right now. It is a serious economic and quality-of-life issue.”

Hon. Bernadette Jordan, MP for South Shore — St. Margarets, Nova Scotia, and the minister of rural economic development, said that there is a sense of urgency in getting digital infrastructure to rural and remote communities because there has been such growth in the use of internet, and it makes it difficult for young people to stay in those communities if they don’t have access.

“When we talk about a sense of urgency, our government has committed to 90 per cent by 2021, 95 per cent by 2025, and the last five per cent by 2030 because we know that rural communities are so vital to our economic growth as a country,” said Jordan. “Thirty per cent of our GDP comes from rural Canada. When you have businesses that can’t grow, or can’t attract people, you can’t access markets.”

Watch the full edition here.

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