Low tech budget

Last week the Liberal Party unfurled what can only be described as 1980’s federal budget – the jocks got everything, and the nerds got the shaft.

There was more than $12 billion for the military and almost half a billion for athletes. Meanwhile, funding for research grants over the next five years was increased by just $375 million, or well short of establishing Canada as any kind of international technology powerhouse.

The Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance was also critical, arguing that Canada hasn’t done enough to reduce the corporate tax rates to draw high tech companies to the country. While their argument completely ignores the fact that industries receive subsidized health care, transportation, pension plans and other perks for their employees from our national safety net, it might be necessary to come up with ways to reward our high-tech industry for its work.

The budget also failed to resurrect my favourite dead program, a plan originally proposed by former Industry Minister Brian Tobin.

Tobin – a genuine liberal from Newfoundland who believes in creating equal opportunities and providing equal services for all Canadians, wherever they live – saw the Internet as a positive force for the country. He believed that it would bridge the divide between haves and have nots in Canada, while closing the yawning gap in education, medicine and innovation separating rural and urban communities.

In the 2001 budget, Tobin asked for a billion dollars to create a high-speed fibre optic network that connected all the major hubs in Canada, and reached out into the most remote areas to allow easier broadband distribution. Some of that investment would also have gone into wireless broadband relays and into satellite broadband hubs for the most remote locations.

Tobin realized that the private broadband industry had little incentive for expanding to remote areas – it was more profitable to fight for market share in already crowded urban areas than to run fibre into the boonies. Some wealthier rural communities have partnered with private companies to bring broadband to their areas, helping to cover some of the infrastructure costs, but vast areas remain underserviced.

To truly level the playing field and ensure that all Canadians have the same level of Internet service, Tobin believed the federal government had an obligation to wire the country. Not only would this spread the technology it would also keep the costs down the same way as keeping utilities like power and water in public hands.

Said Tobin: "(The Internet) is the most pervasive technology we have seen in several decades – so pervasive in nature that it is transforming all areas of life, including how we conduct business and trade, deliver health care and education, as well as how we govern. It is central to development in all its dimensions – the means for economic modernization as well as a vehicle for social, cultural and civic enrichment. Secondly, the Internet offers easy access to a vast array of knowledge which, in turn, is a fundamental prerequisite to modern human development. Knowledge is a strategic asset and an invaluable source of empowerment whether judged in social, political or economic terms."

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