Canada and the Internet Revolution:
Connecting Canadians

John Manley

The following text is an edited speech made by John Manley to the 1999 annual meeting of the Trilateral Commission in Washington, D.C. John Manley is Canada’s Minister of Industry (since 1993).

I want to talk about Canada and the Internet Revolution, and the steps we are taking to make Canada the most connected nation in the world. Globalization of markets in the world economy has pushed the development of Internet technology and the race to provide access to it. In return, the Internet has fueled the growth of a knowledge-based economy, where the ability to harness knowledge and innovation is crucial in determining the wealth of nations and the quality of life within them. It has brought the issue of the free-flow of information to the fore of public policy and international relations. It has provided all nations with opportunities and challenges to open the doors to global trade in knowledge, ideas, and all manner of services that can be reduced to a digital code.

The Information Highway Revolution
For the past six years, the Government of Canada has been implementing policies to develop the Information Highway, provide Canadians with access to it, and use it to build the knowledge-based economy. In just a matter of days, we will reach a milestone in these policies. Canada will become the first nation in the world to have all our schools and libraries on-line. Then we will turn our attention to connecting all classrooms. This is equivalent to having every household in Canada with a phone only 10 years after Alexander Graham Bell conducted the first successful phone conversation in Brantford, Ontario. This achievement will spin off enormous benefits. In this case, Canadian children will be able to ride a wave of technological change that is revolutionizing both the educational system and the workforce they will soon enter.

Nations are racing to build the new infrastructure and teaching their people how to use it because the information highway will have the same impact on the economy that previous infrastructures had for earlier generations. No one can predict the eventual impact—or how the Internet will transform the economy and society. What we know today is that, in a matter of a few years, the Net has changed from a quiet electronic playground for academics and researchers, to a 24-hour market place for products, ideas, and services. In the old days, sending a 42-page document from Ottawa to Tokyo cost about $39.00 and it took 24 hours. Today, we can send it in two minutes at a cost of 15 cents. That’s 720 times faster and 260 times cheaper. The Information Highway is revolutionary, not evolutionary; it is transforming, not tinkering; it is as important socially as it is economically. Our Government has decided we want to put Canada at the leading edge, not in the middle of the pack.

Early in the Government’s mandate, we made the Information Highway a priority. We realized that a high degree of consensus would be required among Canadians if we were to harness the technology’s potential. So in the Spring of 1994, within months of assuming office, we appointed an Information Highway Advisory Council (IHAC). It was comprised of 29 members drawn from business, labour, governments and community groups. In September 1995, IHAC released a report containing over 300 recommendations. The government acted on an overwhelming majority of them. For example, IHAC recommended that building the network and infrastructure of the Information Highway should be left to the private sector. The government limited its role to creating the environment in which the private sector could get on with the job of building the Information Highway. IHAC recommended that the highway should be technology-neutral. We responded by ensuring that four different technologies would compete to build on-ramps to the Information Highway: telephone, cable, wireless and satellite. The Information Highway Advisory Council helped build consensus on issues. It helped focus the attention of both the general public and public policy-makers on the coming changes that the technology would bring. It provided the foundation for what the Government of Canada introduced, in September 1997, as the “Connecting Canadians” agenda.

Connecting Canadians: A Vision for Canada’s Future
“Connecting Canadians” has a stated goal to make Canada the most connected nation in the world—to make Canada a world leader in developing and using an advanced information infrastructure to achieve our social and economic goals in the knowledge economy. Connectedness is about our vision of the Canadian society we want in the 21st century—one with a strong, dynamic, competitive economy, and a strong lifelong-learning culture, but also one that uses connectedness to promote social cohesion, cultural expression and to build new linkages between citizens and government. How does Canada rate in our connectedness objectives? Very well actually. We have the highest level of post-secondary school enrollment in the G-7. We have the lowest annual residential telephone and Internet charges in the G-7. And, the percentage of Canadian small businesses using the Internet jumped from just over 15 percent in 1996 to more than 43 percent in 1998.

Our agenda is built on six priorities:

1. Canada On-Line
We are well on our way to reaching our national targets to give all Canadians access to the Information Highway. This includes connecting all our public schools and libraries; providing 250,000 computers for schools; providing public Internet access for up to 10,000 rural, remote and urban locations; and building the fastest network in the world.

Canada’s SchoolNet program is one of our success stories–a broadly based private and public sector partnership to plug schools and libraries into the Internet. We estimate that, in 1994, there were no more than a handful of schools and libraries connected to the Internet. By the end of 1995, there were 3,200 schools and libraries connected. By the end of 1996, the number had grown to about 7,900. By end of 1997, 14,800. And as I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks, this month we expect that all schools and public libraries will be connected. As well, there are 388 First Nations Schools already connected.

Our Community Access Program has helped more than 4,000 rural and remote communities get online to date. Our goal is to connect every rural community with more than 400 people by the year 2000—that’s 5,000 sites. And we will be adding another 5,000 sites in urban centres. The Community Access Program links these communities into a competitive global economy. When the product is knowledge-based, the format is digital, and you have on-line access, you’re as close to the markets of the world in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, as you are in New York City. The Program also improves the quality of life in these communities. Children have access to sophisticated education facilities through telelearning. Medical facilities link up to the most sophisticated hospitals in the country using tele-health. We’ve already seen cases where some of Canada’s foremost specialists have performed on-line diagnosis of patients in communities thousands of miles away.

I’ve recently seen an excellent application of the Program on the Southeast Shore of Nova Scotia, in Sandy Cove and the Western Valley in Lawrencetown. Many people in those communities left school early to follow the trade of their fathers and grandfathers in the off-shore fishery. But with the dramatic decline of the Atlantic fishery in recent years, many were left without a trade, and did not have enough education to pursue new opportunities. So they’ve turned to the Community Access Internet sites, where they are obtaining their high-school diplomas and upgrading their skills through distance education. Some people say you can’t turn fishers into computer programmers. I say you can use computers to teach them. New worlds of opportunity will open up once they’ve finished school.

We have also created the Voluntary Sector Network Program (VolNet) to link voluntary and charitable organizations across Canada to the Internet and to each other. Our goal is to link up to 10,000 voluntary organizations to the Internet by the end of fiscal year 2000.

We also want to make sure that Canadians have access to a state-of-the-art information infrastructure. Last year, we announced an investment of $55 million to build the world’s fastest, first all-optical research network: CA*net-3. Back in 1993, the original CA*net took about 9 minutes to download the Canadian encyclopedia. With CA*net-3, the process is virtually instantaneous—nearly one million times faster than five years ago. CA*net-3 is an entire generation beyond all other networks. On CA*net-3, data will move at 40 gigabits per second. With a transmission speed of this level, users will be able to download a digitized two-and-a-half-hour movie such as Titanic in under half a second. This is approximately 16 times faster than the American equivalent, the Abilene network project, which is designed to transport data at 2.4 gigabits per second. Parts of the CA*net-3 research network are already up and running, in the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal corridor.

2. Smart Communities
The second part of our plan is Smart Communities. Smart communities provide for connectivity at the community level. It uses the Information Highway to link people and organizations together, to share ideas and to address local needs. We created a blue-ribbon panel of experts who advised on how Canada can develop world-class Smart Communities where technology is used in innovative ways. Last month, we announced funding to establish, by the Year 2000, one world-class Smart Community project in each province, the North and an Aboriginal community. Proposals from across Canada will be evaluated by an arm’s-length national selection committee on such criteria as: helping people harness the power of the Information Highway; creating business opportunities in the global economy; improving the quality and availability of education for all ages; giving citizens more say in governance; building collaboration among all levels of government; improving health services; and attracting high-tech investment and business. The lessons learned will advance the use of information technology at the community level across Canada.

3. Electronic Commerce
The third element of our agenda is Electronic Commerce. Doing business over the Internet is revolutionizing how people buy and sell products and services. Canadians are willing to conduct their business by electronic means. According to the Bank for International Settlements, Canadians use their debit cards five times more often than Americans. Our goal is to make Canada a location of choice for developing electronic commerce products and services, to capitalize on the phenomenal growth of on-line business. By mid-1999, we will have in place a framework we call “The Seven Firsts”:

• a policy on the use of encryption technology;

• a framework for a world-class public key infrastructure;

• new consumer protection guidelines to ensure that Canadians enjoy the same protection on-line that they do in the more traditional forms of transaction;

• electronic signatures that have a basis in law;

• a revenue-neutral taxation regime that treats virtual and physical transactions on an equal footing;

• privacy legislation to protect personal information in the private sector; and

• a Canadian standards road map for electronic commerce to ensure the interoperability of networks and applications. This is the first of its kind, and we will promote it internationally.

4. Canadian Content On-Line
The fourth element of our agenda is Canadian Content On-line. We want to build on Canada’s world-class infrastructure by increasing the availability of Canadian content on-line–content that reflects Canadian institutions and organizations; and Canadian history, aspirations and culture. We can put more major cultural collections on-line to inform and educate people around the world. We can promote social cohesion by facilitating greater knowledge of our heritage. We can promote a healthier society by putting health information on-line and developing new applications in distance medicine.

5. Canadian Governments On-Line
The fifth element is government on-line. The Information Highway has profound implications for how democracies will operate. The Library of Congress bears a quotation from James Madison. “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance,” he said, “and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” Madison spoke from an age where the printing press had made democracy possible. What kinds of new political processes will the new technology give birth to? How will we govern ourselves when information is only a keyboard away? Government On-Line is about governments showing the way to making the best use of the Information Highway. It’s about moving beyond providing access, setting standards, and investing in technology, to giving Canadians around-the-clock access to the information and services they need.

We have made some impressive beginnings. For example, Revenue Canada provides customs information on-line, information once provided by a customs broker. Industry Canada’s Strategis—Canada’s largest source of business information—provides users with about 80,000 documents per day. It’s one of the most-used web sites in North America and the largest French-language business site in the world. We’ve made great progress, but there is much more to be done. We are now working towards a single integrated electronic gateway into government—providing Canadians with easy access to all government programs and services.

6. Connecting Canada to the World
That leads to the final part of our agenda, Connecting Canada to the World. Connectedness has enormous capacity to bring a better understanding of Canada to the world and help brand Canada as a leading-edge economy. Internationally we are working towards interconnectivity and inter-operability of broadband networks, applications and services. And we are promoting global standards for electronic commerce. We are helping schools and libraries in the developing world to plug into the Internet. Connectedness allows us to promote Canada in new ways. By branding Canada as the most connected nation, we can attract foreign investors and establish Canada as a global hub of the knowledge economy.

* * *

Ladies and gentlemen, I have been talking about a social and economic revolution that has the amazing capacity to accelerate development, and leapfrog previous technology. Half the world’s population today has yet to make their first phone call. But we can draw inspiration on how fast this can change. When we began looking at Internet policy in 1993, there were only a few million users connected to the Net around the world (22 million in 1995). Today there are over 160 million, and the number grows exponentially. Connecting Canadians is our plan to help provide skills and tools for Canadians in the global, knowledge-based economy. Other nations have similar programs with similar goals.

A Canadian, Marshall McLuhan, predicted in the 1960s that technology would turn the world into a global village. He was referring to television technology—a one-way medium, where people could only watch. Today, we can see how the Internet Revolution is changing the world in ways even McLuhan could not have imagined. It’s an interactive technology, a two-way technology, a technology that brings us together as never before. It is the infrastructure for a new millennium and there are enormous untapped opportunities—opportunities we cannot even envision yet. I’m looking forward to seeing what the future of this technology brings.