Investing in our digital future is critical to strengthening Canada's economy

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support for as little as $5 per month!

Like our coverage of digital media? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

"It's the economy, stupid!"

That well-known political aphorism was first coined over 20 years ago by James Carville, a senior adviser to Bill Clinton.

The saying may be decades old, but it's still applicable to our current federal election. "Who can save the economy?" blares Maclean's in a banner headline. "The economy is the most critical ballot-box issue facing Canadian voters," intones The Globe and Mail, organizer of the recent leaders' debate on -- you guessed it -- the economy.

Voters seem to agree. Users of CBC's popular Vote Compass tool prioritized "the economy" far above other issues.

And yet, very little attention is being paid to the critical role our digital infrastructure plays in growing our wider economy. Ten years of failed government policies have left Canadians with a national digital deficit and a stark digital divide. Canadians are paying the price: 44 per cent of our lowest-income households have no Internet access, and over 30 per cent don't have a mobile phone.

It's little wonder that this is the case: a government report issued just before the election confirmed that Canadians pay some of the highest prices in the industrialized world for Internet and cell phone service.

Our sky-high Internet and wireless prices are a serious annoyance for middle- and high-income Canadians -- but for low-income Canadians, they make Internet access literally unaffordable; sidelining millions of people from our digital future.

How can this be acceptable in a wealthy country like Canada? Shouldn't our political leaders recognize that this digital divide puts our whole digital economy at risk?

Sadly, this government's track record has left Canada falling behind. Their eagerly awaited Digital Canada 150 strategy, which was supposed to present a strong vision for the Internet, was a serious letdown. The strategy delayed the rollout of even 5 Mbps broadband across Canada for another four years -- pushing the target to 2019, instead of 2015. Even by 2019, the government has only promised 98 per cent coverage, leaving 700,000 Canadians behind.

These unambitious and lacklustre government targets have, if anything, left Canada moving backwards, not forwards when it comes to our global counterparts. The U.S., meanwhile, has set a minimum speed for broadband of 25 Mbps, and a target of 100 Mbps broadband across the country by 2020. And in countries like Japan and South Korea it's common for households to enjoy access to lightning-fast fibre Internet for a fraction of what it costs Canadians for far more pedestrian plans.

It's clear that Canadians are feeling frustrated. OpenMedia community member Nic De Groot summed it up perfectly: "Canada: providing third-world Internet service at first-world price since the Internet began. It is tradition."

It's no wonder that leading innovators and entrepreneurs are speaking out, calling for real action to fix our broken telecom market. These business people are at the leading edge of Canada's digital economy, and know firsthand the economic costs of government failures.

Compounding these concerns is the government's irresponsible approach to online privacy. Scandals about the activities of Canada's spy agency CSE have undermined international confidence in our digital security. And the recent passage of Bill C-51 has left many Canadian business leaders -- including the heads of Slack, Hootsuite, and Shopify -- warning about how the legislation will "change Canada's business climate for the worse."

We need ambition. We need investment. We need privacy protections. And we need the priorities of Canadians to be taken seriously. That's why OpenMedia recently launched a pro-Internet action plan that aims to ensure, quite simply, that every Canadian has affordable access to world-class, surveillance-free Internet.

Our proposals were crowdsourced by over 250,000 people, and it seems that at least some politicians are listening. Green Party Leader Elizabeth May has fully endorsed our plan, and over 120 candidates from across the political spectrum have spoken up for the Internet.

With the election now just weeks away, it's never been more important for Canadians to speak up and demand politicians listen when it comes to our digital economy. I encourage readers to use our message-your-candidates tool to tell your local candidates to take a stand for the free and open Internet.

Whether it's ensuring affordable Internet access, safeguarding our online privacy, or protecting free expression, this election will shape our digital future for the coming decades. We don't have a moment to lose.

David Christopher is communications manager for OpenMedia, a community-based group that works to safeguard the possibilities of the open Internet. A version of this piece was also published by Common Ground magazine.

Like our coverage of digital media? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

Related Items

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable. has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.