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August 15-18, 1997 Halifax, Nova Scotia

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Universal Access Workshop: Document 4 of 4

Note especially recommendation's 4.11 and 4.22 (GG)

            Information Highway Advisory Council (IHAC)
            Author - Industry Canada
                             ACCESS STEERING COMMITTEE

       Policy Issue
       "In an environment that will see local monopolies replaced by
       competition, and in the context of ongoing work to develop a national
       access strategy, what measures are needed by governments and the
       private sector to ensure affordability and equity in Canadians' access
       to essential services?"
       Background Study
       Access to the Internet: A Community Based Approach, Nordicity Group
       Ltd. (Sandi McDonald).
       Steering Committee Members
       Francis Fox (Chair)
       David Sutherland (Co-Chair)
       Neil Baker
       John MacDonald
       Colin Watson
       Elizabeth Hoffman
       Janet Yale
       Kenneth Engelhart
       Sheridan Scott
       Jim Savary
       Andrew Reddick
       Government Officials
       Richard Simpson, IHAC Secretariat
       Peter Ferguson, IHAC Secretariat
       Monique Lajeunesse, IHAC Secretariat
       John Sifton, IHAC Secretariat
       Prabir Neogi, Industry Canada
       David Niece, Canadian Heritage
       [At its meeting on April 3-4, 1997, the Information Highway Advisory
       Council approved the following conclusions and recommendations flowing
       from the work of the Steering Committee on Access.]
       Access to the Information Highway is critical to Canada's future as an
       information society and its success as a knowledge economy. In
       Building the Information Society, the federal government indicated its
       intention to develop a national access strategy, reflecting the four
       access principles enunciated in IHAC's first report, Connection,
       Community, Content. The Council urges the government to meet its
       commitment to articulate such a strategy before the end of 1997 (Rec.
       As the Information Highway has become more pervasive and significant
       in the economic, social and cultural life of Canadians, the scope and
       complexity of the access issue has increased. In consequence, an
       effective strategy dealing with access to the Information Highway must
       address at least three areas of public policy concern - (i) ensuring
       access to basic telecommunications and broadcasting, which represent
       Canadians' "on-ramps" to the Information Highway; (ii) promoting
       access to new networks and services that are appearing on the
       Information Highway, especially the Internet; and (iii) establishing a
       formal mechanism for defining access in a knowledge society. The
       Council believes the government must set forth clear directions and
       take appropriate action in all three of these areas. Consistent with
       its mandate to review progress, as well as to advise the government on
       access, the Council has concluded that much has been accomplished in
       this regard, but a great deal of work still needs to be done.
       Access to Basic Network Services
       In relation to basic network services in telecommunications and
       broadcasting, Canadians have achieved one of the highest levels of
       universality in the world. International data on penetration rates for
       telephones, broadcast services and cable television show Canada at or
       near the top in all three areas.
       In the broadcasting area, the Council praises the Canadian
       Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) release in
       March 1997 of a policy framework for fair competition in broadcast
       distribution services and urges the Commission to meet its deadline of
       early 1998 for the promulgation of regulations.
       In telecommunications, the Council expresses satisfaction with CRTC
       decisions and planned proceedings intended to sustain universal access
       at affordable rates. The Council urges the CRTC to act quickly, and
       with appropriate attention to detail, on its expressed determination
       to monitor closely trends in telephone penetration rates and
       affordability indicators and to intervene when and if the principle of
       universality is threatened (Rec. 4.2.).
       Access to the Information Highway
       In the Council's view, the government should emphasize access to the
       Internet as a first step in ensuring equitable participation in a
       knowledge society. Any policies assessing access to the Information
       Highway must address access to the Internet (Rec. 4.3). Though unable
       to determine whether access to the Internet will be a problem, the
       Council calls on the federal government or the CRTC to monitor such
       access, focusing on people in remote areas and people with low incomes
       and disabilities. Statistics Canada should also develop ways to
       measure such access and collect and publish the statistics (Rec. 4.4).
       Because effective access to content largely depends on speed of
       access, the government, in cooperation with industry, CANARIE and
       public interest groups, should monitor deployment of high-speed
       Internet access and the arrival of more video-based services on the
       World Wide Web (Rec. 4.5).
       A key concern of the Council is the promotion of public access to the
       Internet. In the case of rural and remote areas, the Council
       recommends: that the government and the CRTC work with industry to
       develop the means to make Internet access available without
       long-distance charges (Rec. 4.6); and that the government in
       cooperation with industry proceed with the Advanced Satcom Initiative,
       with a view to encouraging satellite provision of Internet access to
       schools, libraries, community centres and other local institutions
       (Rec. 4.7). The Council welcomes the decision in the February 1997
       Budget to put an additional $30 million into an expansion of the
       Community Access Program (CAP), and underscores the importance of the
       goal of establishing public access sites by the year 2000 in the 5,000
       rural and remote communities with populations between 400 and 50,000
       (Rec. 4.8). Given the key question of how to sustain these sites in
       the long term, the government should attach priority to providing the
       resources sufficient both to install and sustain community access
       points in locations to which the general public has easy access (Rec.
       4.9). Since the majority of people with low incomes live in cities and
       can be reached without exorbitant cost, the Council recommends that
       CAP receive additional resources to extend community access sites on a
       sustainable basis to urban neighbourhoods lacking such sites (Rec.
       The Council believes the existence of inclusive electronic public
       spaces is vital to the democratic health of the emerging knowledge
       society. Thus, the Council calls on governments to work closely with
       industry and public interest and consumer groups to make community
       networks and public spaces sustainable on the Information Highway
       (Rec. 4.11), and recommends that the federal government develop
       policies and procedures to contribute financially to non-profit
       Internet access providers for the electronic provision of government
       services and information to the general public (Rec. 4.12). While
       urging government to move to electronic provision of services and
       information, the Council emphasizes the continuing need for government
       to provide information and services in traditional forms to citizens
       without access to the Internet or public access sites (Rec. 4.13).
       In the Council's view, digital literacy is a key precondition for
       access to the Information Highway and success in the emerging
       knowledge society. To this end and in keeping with the present
       SchoolNet target of ensuring every school in Canada has full Internet
       access by the end of 1998, the Council calls on all governments, the
       educational community and the private sector to work together to meet
       this goal (Rec. 4.14). The Council also urges governments to encourage
       development of high-quality on-line tutorial and community-based
       instruction available via public access sites, community networks and
       the Internet (Rec. 4.15), and to provide resources to every publicly
       funded library to support sustainable public access sites and learning
       of basic computer and Internet skills by people who would not
       otherwise be served (Rec. 4.16).
       In September 1995, IHAC stated that Canadian content should have a
       prominent place and "eye-level... shelf-space" on the Information
       Highway. While noting progress in this respect, the Council recommends
       that Canadian Internet access providers be encouraged to place
       Canadian reference points on their home pages (Rec. 4.17), and that
       the federal government resource existing programs, and develop
       partnership strategies with others, to develop more Canadian content,
       particularly in new media services (Rec. 4.18). The Council also notes
       the relative lack of French-language content on the Internet and calls
       on governments to work closely with industry, and in cooperation with
       Francophone communities, to develop a critical mass of French-language
       content and services for the Internet (Rec. 4.19).
       Without availability of various alternative methods of access, the
       Internet can be inaccessible to people with disabilities. Universal
       design allows for this variety in methods of access. The Council
       recommends that the government carefully monitor Internet developments
       in this respect (Rec. 4.20); and fund an award program to honour
       achievements in design of assistive devices and in application of
       universal design principles in communications products, systems and
       services (Rec. 4.21).
       Defining Access in a Knowledge Society
       The Council believes the fundamental social and economic
       transformations attendant upon Canada's transition from an industrial
       to a knowledge society constitute a strong argument for bringing to
       bear in a focussed way on the access issue viewpoints beyond those of
       the federal government and the usual participants in the CRTC
       regulatory process. Decisions on what Information Highway services
       should be considered essential will have far-reaching ramifications
       and should be informed by the viewpoints of industry and the community
       at large in all its diversity. The Council, while reluctant to create
       another advisory body, believes on balance the issue is so important
       that the federal government should create a national access advisory
       committee, reporting to the Ministers of Industry and Canadian
       Heritage, to advise on emerging access requirements and what services
       will be essential in a knowledge society. The advisory committee
       should include balanced representation from industry and the
       non-profit sector (Rec. 4.22). Its operation should be fully
       consistent with the constitutional and statutory responsibilities of
       the federal government and the CRTC with respect to communications
       policy and regulation.
       Access Steering Committee, April 1997