Michael Gurstein on Mon, 26 Jul 2004 04:15:41 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> A Letter Re: Canadian Policy Towards An Information Society

From: directors-admin@tc.ca 
     [mailto:directors-admin@tc.ca] On Behalf Of
Garth Graham
Sent: July 23, 2004 10:17 AM
To: directors@tc.ca
Subject: [Directors] Letter to Industry Minister re communcations policy

Now that a Cabinet has been announced, I completed and forwarded that
draft letter to the Minister of Industry I'd previously circulated to
this list. I did get helpful feedback for revision from several sources.
It's now posted on the TC web site under advocacy: papers and reports

"New approaches to telecommunications advice - July 2004. A letter from
Telecommunities Canada to the Minister of Industry, July 21, 2004,
written with the intention of obtaining a greater voice for community
online in a pending national review of Canadian telecommunications

The letter outlines issues of Canadian national capacity to define and
decide about transitional processes while heading into a society based
on networks of distributed socio-economic and political functions (sort
of TCP/IP as a metaphor of social process).

Garth Graham


    The Honourable David Emerson
    Minister of Industry
    C.D. Howe Building, 11th Floor, East Tower
    235 Queen Street
    Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0H5


    Garth Graham
    Telecommunities Canada
    25-118 Aldersmith Place
    Victoria, British Columbia, V9A 7M9

July 21, 2004

Dear Mr. Emerson

Re:  New approaches to telecommunications advice

Our congratulations on your appointment as Minister of Industry.

I write on behalf of Telecommunities Canada (TC), a national association
for sharing the practices of community networks, regarding the pending
telecommunications policy review.  We recommend that any such review
include access to a growing body of Canadian experience about the nature
of community online.

Also, noting such things as Bell Canada's recent calls for attention to
the issues of VOIP, VDSL and deregulation, we anticipate that another
"Information Highway Advisory Council (IHAC)" may be considered as the
best approach to structuring that review.  In particular in: "Sabia
ratchets up pressure on Ottawa," by Dave Ebner, Telecom Reporter, Globe
and Mail, Wednesday, April 28, 2004 - Page B1, we saw quotes from
Michael Binder, speaking as the assistant deputy minister for telecom at
Industry Canada.  In calling for a greater focus on communications
technology as an industry, Binder said, "The whole Government will have
to think about this," and that Canada "may now benefit from a formal

We certainly agree with the necessity to update the policy frameworks
that will guide future programmes.  But we strongly recommend a
different approach than IHAC for any accompanying advisory processes.
There is now far more at stake than issues of industry support. We
recommend something open, transparent, and broadly representative of
Canadian experience of the Information Society, something that points
toward where we're going, not where we've been.

Any review of Canada's policies for support of the "communications
technology industry" must be conducted against the broader context of
Canada's capacity to address its own transition to an "Information
Society." A new review should ask, "What is the real operating model of
an 'information Society' and where does it come from?"  To answer that
question, people at the centre of any national policy planning process
need to interact deeply with the changing nature of citizens'
experience.   Without achieving a broader consensus on the
and political context of Canada's transition, we all have very little
basis for understanding and discussing what needs to be done in

Canada's transition toward becoming an Information Society is well
advanced.  To mirror the changes that have occurred as a consequence,
new and different models of dialogue are now necessary.   There is much
to be gained by effectively informing a process of policy formulation
through public participation that is more broadly socio-economic in its
scope and implications.  Events have overtaken the IHAC model and its
primary focus on industry participation. The issues of public interest
and policy involved have grown much more complex than Mr. Binder's
phrase "communications technology" encompasses.  They should no longer
be considered outside of the context of experience with effective use of
those technologies.

The traditional telecommunications carriers view the idea of
"convergence" of media as a major source of their problems.  But what we
see happening is not convergence.  It's a replacement of one set of
communications technologies with another.  Via interactive
communications based on Internet Protocol (IP), there are now many more
stakeholders involved in what used to be called telecommunications when
Canada was conceived.   To use the primary carriers own language, what
was formerly viewed as a telecom market has already become "services"
market that includes the "triple play" of data, voice and images over
the same IP-based networks. The discussion must move to considering how
all application providers gain access to existing infrastructure. This
is a change that the current framework of regulations and policies does
not anticipate.

The diffusion of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) is
certainly a prime contributor to productivity growth everywhere in our
economy.  But it is also a potent indicator of change in social
structure. Therefore, while we agree that the creation of a favourable
environment for the spread of ICTs remains an important responsibility
for policy makers, we see the demands of that responsibility to be much
greater than previous reviews have anticipated.  For example:

* Open networks (operator neutral networks) are the key to the growth of
  essential new competitors and the emergence of now unknowable new
  services in a networked economy. We need new business and regulatory
  models that support the interactive peer-to-peer traffic that is now
  understood clearly as the key to rapid growth in broadband use.

* If a networked market can best be understood as a "community" of
  actors, then the consumers of those services are as much a factor in
  the balance of distributed functions as any of the other actors. But
  when are their voices ever heard in the "business case?"

* In a Connected Canada, there are unnoticed local communities of place,
  practice and interest that are interacting globally and thereby
  expressing Canadian experience of transition directly. These groups
  exhibit characteristics of being global, horizontal, distributed and
  self-organizing. We can begin a process of review by identifying and
  talking with those who have already made the transition to daily life
  online. We can ask them how they would design an increased national
  capacity to understand what is happening to us all.

* The lessons emerging from hands-on community experience of broadband
  show us that, whatever the applications of broadband to daily living
  may be, they are not to be found exclusively in sectors of service.
  They are to be found in the new ways that people connect to each
  other. As any sector adapts, what it learns about transition will be
  found in two places. First in that sector's openness (its connection)
  to other processes and institutions of anticipation within Canadian
  society overall. Second, in the way that augmented social networks
  change relationships among autonomous individuals.

Telecommunities Canada (TC) has never taken the conventional view of
social change as technology driven.  We have always assumed there is an
emerging set of social and cultural changes of which the Internet is a
symptom and then asked, "What new social forms are the most viable in
that new environment?"  TC's answer is that the form or process called
"community," re-defined by being online, is the one most viable. In that
view then, community networking is not defined institutionally.
Community networking is defined as the shared experiences of communities
of practice related to understanding how community is achieved in the
online context as a public good and an essential socio-economic goal.

Learning encodes experience.  What is different about being online is
that the learning of communities as interacting entities, not just
individual knowledge, becomes accessible.    As a consequence, both
individuals and communities can know far more about the context of any
decisions they face.  Conventionally, such new informing of the politics
of decision-making is being viewed as a threat to existing political
institutions.  And indeed, its impact is, as yet, immeasurable.  But,
actually, it adds a new kind of resilience to the fabric of Canadian

Community online is thought to be an issue of the rural, the remote and
the margins of socio-economic and political change in Canada.  But,
unnoticed, it has actually moved to the heart of Canada's experience of
the structures that govern interaction in an information society. The
missing ingredient in the policy equation is acknowledgement of the
capacity that community online has to intensify the horizontal
integration and expression of experience.  In an online world, learning
is a matter of both individuals and the communities they inhabit.

No one agency, including TC, can have a lock on Canadian experience of
transition.  But we believe that the "will" of citizens online is
changing in ways that can be discovered by taking a different approach
to listening and learning from what is already there.  We have always
assumed that the condition of being in community and online presages
emerging new forms of governance and innovation related to the nature of
self-organizing and distributed systems.  Given acceptance of the
assumption that community online is an essential structural principle,
what new picture of Canada as an Information Society will emerge, and
what are the implications of that picture for public policy?

This is a very broad question. The narrower views provided by using such
policy filters as "IT sector" or "broadcasting" are no longer very
useful in seeking for a deeper understanding.  In essence, in a
networked society, we are all "application providers."  From that
governance perspective, such things as reviewing telecommunications
policy, revisiting Connecting Canada and addressing the democratic
deficit are all inextricably linked.

In other words, in a Canada that is connected, the central issue of any
"telecom" policy review is really going to be about emerging new forms
of governance.  That places the idea of community online at the heart of
any understanding of how the politics of decision-making adapt to

Within TC, we will continue to work toward our own long-term goal for
sharing of Canadian community networking experience.  We will seek to
more fully inform the processes socio-economic and political change
through research, design, implementation and sharing of experience about
information and communications technologies that augment social
networks. We will intensify the horizontal linkages among communities of
practice about community online.  In drawing upon that experience, we
feel we are pointing an ongoing and dynamic capacity that is essential
to the socio-economic development and political evolution of Canada.

We recommend an advisory process that acknowledges that the users (the
"demand" side of the equation) really do know a great deal about
transition and convergence.   We are all online now in one way or
another and, as a consequence, we are beginning to see our experiences
in a different light.  In the production and consumption of services
that operate through networks, all sorts of new balances of actors and
distributed functions are beginning emerge.  It would be useful to seek
broader public participation in dialogue on the nature of Canada as an
Information Society.  Such a dialogue would surface and express what
Canadians are learning about how the online context now reshapes
questions about the public interest.

We see the Canada consultation portal as being one means of eventually
addressing this need. Of course the portal can play a larger role in
linking existing self-organized dialogues on national issues, but it
could evolve to do much more. It could gain the capacity to support
national dialogues that are arms length.  In other words, can we get the
toolkit of softwares that support consultation processes to a point
where it becomes apparent that anyone aspiring to a national role can
and should use or enhance them?  If we can, that would be a significant
achievement in applying governance online in support of the essential
self-referencing functions of a society of open networks.

We are pointing to a gap that exists between citizens' experience and
governments' perception of what drives transition.  By what method or
means can we narrow that gap?  Assuming that, by now in a highly
"Connected Canada," something quite different will be lurking below the
surface of awareness, we believe a new understanding can surface about
how the consequences of connectivity inform public opinion and behavior.
What Canada then gains from tapping into that experience is enhanced
national capacity to express what we are learning about our transition
to an Information Society.

Yours truly,

    Garth Graham
    For Telecommunities Canada Board of Directors

cc: The Honourable Mauril Belanger, Minister responsible for Democratic Reform
cc: Suzanne Hurtubise, Deputy Minister, Industry Canada

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