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Ottawa's digital strategy receives criticism

Ottawa has unveiled a digital strategy it says will keep pace with Canadians' use of technology, but some critics say it comes up short and late for the fast-moving digital world.

Industry Minister James Moore said Friday he will table the Digital Privacy Act next week with updated measures to improve protection for Canadians' online privacy and security.

"We have to make sure that Canadians have confidence that their online presence and their online transactions are secure and that their privacy is protected and that their families are safe from online threats and cyberbullying," Moore said via webcast from Waterloo, Ont.

His announcement included new and ongoing initiatives by the Conservative government.

But while critics had some praise for Moore moving ahead with a strategy, others described it as "warmed up leftovers" and the the equivalent of slow tech in a high-speed world.

Associate prof. John-Kurt Pliniussen of Queen's University said it's a step in the right direction, but noted that Canada lags behind other G7 industrialized countries when it comes to a digital strategy.

"We're at first base and they're at third base on all measures," said Pliniussen, who teaches Internet marketing and innovation at Queen's in Kingston, Ont.

"No one has said, `We want to be the best in the world,'" he said.

Liberal Industry critic Judy Sgro called it a "rehash."

"I was expecting they were going to layout a digital railway for the 21st century, so it was a disappointment," Sgro said.

Moore made several references to the Internet being the modern equivalent of Canada's railways in bringing the country together.

"The railway is going nowhere," Sgro said.

Law professor Michael Geist said it's positive the government is moving forward on digital issues, but the strategy has its shortcomings.

"In some ways, this feels more like a report card on what the government has accomplished in the past as opposed to a document talking about where it wants to take us in the future," said Geist, the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law at the University of Ottawa.

Ottawa said it's aiming to have more than 98 per cent of Canadians with Internet service fast enough for high-resolution video.

To achieve that, Moore said the government will provide about $305 million to extend and enhance high-speed Internet services for about 280,000 households in rural and remote areas of the country by 2017, recently announced in the federal budget.

Ottawa will also table legislation to ensure that networks are protected from terrorist or domestic threats, Moore said, adding that Canada has been "lagging behind" on that front. He didn't provide further details.

A report last month found that Canada's Internet service providers have been less than forthcoming about how they handle customer information _ including whether they routinely give personal data to spy agencies. Internet software companies have also warned that corporate data and intellectual property are facing an increase in hacking threats.

NDP MP Charmaine Borg, the party's digital issues critic, said the changes won't be fully in place until 2017.

"Pretty much what we're seeing here is a dial-up strategy for a broadband world," Borg said.

Advocacy group OpenMedia.ca called Moore's announcement "warmed up leftovers" and said a number of the measures announced aren't new, such as giving rural Canadians high-speed Internet and more wireless competition.

"This reads like the digital strategy for the last five years, not for the five years ahead," OpenMedia executive director Steve Anderson said in a statement.

The government will provide $36 million in new money to repair, refurbish or donate computers to libraries, not-for-profit organizations and in small and aboriginal communities, Moore said.

In addition, the digital strategy calls for the Business Development Bank of Canada to invest an additional $500 million on behalf of the government, with $300 million going to digital tech companies and $200 million for businesses adopting new technology.

Moore added the government will invest $40 million in new money to support 3,000 internships for young people to get experience and skills in high-demand jobs.

Moore repeated his pledge to have more competition in Canada's wireless industry, which is dominated by Rogers (TSX:RCI.B), Bell (TSX:BCE) and Telus (TSX:T).

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version misstated the funding amount for extending high-speed Internet services in remote areas at $350 million.

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