To:      The Honourable Bill Graham

Minister of Foreign Affairs

Office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs

125 Sussex Drive

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K1A 0G2

 

The Honourable John Manley

Minister of Finance

Finance Canada,

L'Esplanade Laurier, 140 O'Connor Street

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K1A 0G5

 

The Honourable Allan Rock

Minister of Industry

Industry Canada, 11th Floor, East Tower, C.D. Howe Building

235 Queen Street

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K1A 0H5

 

 

Date:   June 30, 2003

 

 

From   Gareth Shearman

            President, Telecommunities Canada

 

 

Dear Sirs:

 

Re: Community online and Canada’s position at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)

 

Telecommunities Canada (TC) is an organization that shares experiences of the impact of information and telecommunications use on community development.  For over a decade, it has been concerned with making the practices of “community online” accessible.

 

Through our participation in the Global Community Networks Partnership (GCNP), TC has been very active in the WSIS preparation process.  In October 2002, TC co-hosted the third international meeting of the GCNP in Montreal.  That meeting produced a statement on community involvement in the information society.  The Civil Society Secretariat of WSIS recognized the event and its outcome as a significant contribution to the international WSIS process.  TC also used its own resources to send a delegate to the WSIS’s PrepCom 1.  We continue our international participation through GCNP and its member organizations.

 

There has now been a decade of experience about change, innovation and adaptation at the community level in Canada.  We do support the current push (in, for example, such programmes as BRAND) for increasing access to the technology of infrastructure via public / private business models.  But we are concerned that public policy understandings or intentions with respect to long-term use of that infrastructure seem largely absent from public dialogue on Canada’s future.

 

Here are some of the principles we advocate in our international expression of Canadian experience:

 

 

Governance in Canada is conventionally imagined as a “top down” structure of national, provincial and municipal governments, with responsibilities for action constitutionally defined as flowing from the Crown downwards.  In parallel, economic planning assumes a structure of national, regional and local markets and productive capacities. But national, regional and local doesn’t apply when any can and will connect to any.  There is a new “network economy” emerging online.  That economy is structured by distributing functions across open systems.  That economy is uncentered.  In it, what you know interacts with where you are in a totally different manner than is assumed by conventional assumptions of hierarchy.

 

 

We now live our economic life in smart markets.  Everyone in those markets, producers, distributors, or consumers, are active participants in the knowledge base represented by its transactions and the use of the transactions record as feedback to simulate its future directions.  Markets as networks that self-organize in this manner behave as if they were communities.  In part, this is similar to what the economist Yochai Benkler, in referring to a new mode of production in digitally networked environments, has called "commons-based peer-production."

 

 

When community isolation by geography becomes mitigated by the fact of being online, then casting “rural” communities primarily in the role of consumers of broadband-based products and services will no longer make any sense.  Communities want to participate in both the demand and supply side of markets online.  They intend to become contributors to the “ecology” that grows the electronic commons, not merely grazers in it. They want the voices of community to spread outwards, not just to drink from a fire hose. Radio and TV too started as community assets then were taken over. Communities are unwilling to let that example repeat itself.

 

 

Because of the nature of open systems and networks, Canada is facing a major question of community capacity for autonomy in the deciding on the uses of ICTs for socio-economic development. When rural areas do get connected, economic participation becomes constrained as much by factors of imagination, motivation and experience as it now is by their physical relation to finite, geography-based resources.  In a networked world, the strength of the Canadian economy is going to depend on the capacity of local communities to grow their own infrastructure and learn their way forward in the process.

 

We are not alone in our expression of these principles.  As an example of the growing desire for community autonomy, we note that the final Plenary session of “Emerging BC and Yukon Communities in the Digital World: 2003 Community Learning Forum,” Richmond, BC, March 22, 2003 unanimously adopted a motion as follows:

 

"We want multilevel government commitment to enable a community led network of networks to strengthen community ICT initiatives in BC and Yukon."

 

In conclusion, we request your clarification of the degree to which our views of the impact of connectivity on change in Canada are or can be, reflected in public policy.  For example, the document - World Summit on the Information Society: Canadian Contribution to PrepCom-2, Geneva, 17-28 February 2003. Government of Canada, 6 December 2002 – states as one of 7 principles:

 

Encouraging Community Involvement and Empowerment – In developing action plans to implement the foregoing principles, governments – in collaboration with the private sector and civil society – should place special emphasis on community-based initiatives, since it is at the community level that the challenges and opportunities of developing an inclusive global information society are most tangible for ordinary individuals.

 

We are, of course, in agreement with that principle.  As you work on the implementation of that principle, we’d like to help.

 

We understand that Canada’s official position at WSIS is still open for discussion. Most certainly, Canada can supply relevant experience on the consequences of living daily life in a connected society. But, the expression of that experience must mirror the practices of the open systems it represents. What will emerge out of the interaction of many voices, often conflicting voices, has become far more important to Canada’s success as a learning society than is the search for a common point of view.

 

We seek assurances of more open processes of dialogue on national economic development planning related to ICT use, processes that are sensitive to the principles we have outlined. We offer our cooperation in any attempt to open up the processes of dialogue. 

 

We will continue our involvement both nationally and internationally.  Telecommunities Canada will continue to contribute to the WSIS process -- through our work in Canada and via our participation in GCNP.  We offer our cooperation in the international expression of Canadian experience of the uses of ICTs for development and the impact of connectivity on socio-economic and political change.

 

 

Yours truly,

 

 

 

 

Gareth Shearman

President, Telecommunities Canada