Designing Innovative Policies
Welcome to the ninth issue of the Digital Policy Salon briefing.
This week, we’re focused on creative policies: in Canada and around the world, leaders are designing novel ways to support their citizenry and bolster their economies.
Importantly, Canadian provinces are beginning to reopen, using a variety of different strategies. Our update this week includes a detailed breakdown of provincial governments’ policy approaches. Even with positive signs that quarantine may be easing up, federal strategies such as the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) are still essential measures supporting 1 in 5 Canadians through this economic crisis, and our first perspective piece examines the CERB’s similarities, and differences, to the controversial proposal of Universal Basic Income (UBI).
Despite the promise of spring and a slow return to an open economy, forecasts must still consider the impact of significant blows to prosperity. Our second perspective piece revises projections for employment in Alberta’s digital economy, while our interview examines the role of digital ethics in planning for the future. In “what we’re reading,” we compare Canadian SME prospects with those of the US, and consider the lasting impact of COVID-19 on front-line workers. Finally, this week closes with a featured look at telecommunications policy in Canada, and the potential introduction of competitive policy solutions to drive down costs for consumers.
- Tyler & Faun
COVID-19 Policy Updates 🇨🇦
Across Canada, Google searches for ‘reopening the economy’ are on the rise. Now that regional governments have begun publishing their plans to reopen, how communities will go about reopening the economy is becoming much clearer.
Ontario, Alberta, and Newfoundland and Labrador each released a multi-stage framework for reopening their provincial economies last week. The frameworks detail a non-scheduled approach, highlighting mandatory prerequisites that must be reached before moving on to the next stage. For Ontario this includes a consistent two-to-four week decrease in the number of new daily cases, and for Alberta, technology-enabled contact notifications. For all three provinces, significantly heightened capacity and efficiency for testing and contact tracing is vital. If you’re reading this newsletter from Ontario, the province is holding online consultations until June 12th to inform future decision-making.
Unlike Ontario and Alberta’s prerequisite-based approach to reopening the economy, Québec is moving forward with a pre-determined schedule for each region of the province. Re-opening plans are scheduled for throughout the month of May and include eliminating regional roadblocks, opening schools, and loosening restrictions on businesses and other economic activity. Though originally planned for early next week, the reopening of business in Montreal has been delayed due to public health concerns.
Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, British Columbia, and Prince Edward Island are all moving forward with a multi-stage, hybrid approach where the first few phases are scheduled, with follow-up phases guided by public health updates and other prerequisites. Saskatchewan has loosened restrictions on medical services and outdoor recreational activities to date and will be opening of retail businesses on May 19th. In Manitoba, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick, a variety of services, business, and venues have reopened already, including retail businesses, restaurants, and museums. British Columbia announced its plan yesterday with many details to be established. The province expects priority sectors to be reopening in mid-May, with the understanding that its timeline will be delayed should cases spike unexpectedly.
Despite gradual easing of economic restrictions and social gathering bans, essential travel restrictions remain in place for most regions of the country.
The Northwest Territories, Yukon, Nunavut, and Nova Scotia have no formal plans to lift restrictions as of yet, although Nunavut has identified in-territory diagnostic capacity and no active cases as baseline requirements. — Mairead Matthews | email
Before March 2020, the Canadian public probably would have rebelled at the idea of a program that delivered a full-time minimum wage to 20% of the population without requiring them to demonstrate that they couldn’t find a job. A global pandemic has created an ideological shift where many of us are suddenly very empathetic with the unemployed — and this gives Canada an opportunity to trial unprecedented policies and ask some never-before-possible questions, including: what happens when we just give people money?
The Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) was introduced in March 2020 to provide urgent relief to Canadians due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike the country’s long-standing Employment Insurance (EI) program, the CERB includes self-employed, freelance, and gig economy workers, as well as people who have lost work due to illness or any coronavirus-related reason other than “quitting voluntarily.”[i] The CERB has been heralded for being easy to access, unlike many other wage subsidy or replacement programs — currently, the CERB is advertised across bright banners in most of the locations Canadians go online to file their taxes. While Canadian pundits are divided on whether the CERB has hit the ideal parameters for who qualifies to receive it, some have begun to compare the program to an idea with a long and controversial history: Basic Income or Universal Basic Income (UBI).
One year ago, ICTC released the report A Digital Future for Alberta: An Analysis of Digital Occupations in Alberta’s High-Growth Sectors. This report analyzed and forecast employment in key digital occupations across Alberta’s economy during a period where economic diversification was beginning to take shape. Analysis encompassed many areas, including the fastest-growing digital jobs in 2019, wage premia for digital roles, the most in-demand digital skills, the fastest growing STEM fields of study, and many other findings based on primary research. The study also identified and forecast key digital occupations across growth sectors like healthcare, advanced manufacturing, cleantech, interactive digital media and others.
As the great statistician George Box famously quipped, “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” Unfortunately, COVID-19 has swept across Canada at speed, rendering previous forecasts of employment and economic growth-including our own-in need of course correction.
About a month and a half after the declaration of a global pandemic, COVID-19 has already thrown our healthcare systems into disarray and wreaked havoc on the economy. From the S&P and the IMF, to the Bank of Canada, COVID-19 has blown all previous economic predictions for 2020 off course. For Alberta, it brought tourism to a grinding halt and created ripples across sectors. Further compounded by cascading oil prices-a barrel of Western Canadian Select is currently worth about $6, after having dipped negative in recent periods-Alberta is in the throes of what has been referred to as a “triple whammy” of economic contraction.
Interviews in the Field
On 10 March 2020, Kier Schuller (Research & Policy Analyst at ICTC) spoke with Professor Luciano Floridi as part of ICTC’s Tech & Human Rights Series. Professor Floridi is the Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information at the University of Oxford, where he is also the Director of the Digital Ethics Lab at the Oxford Internet Institute (OII). In this interview, Kiera asks Professor Floridi about the intersections of technology and ethics. The conversation explores the Fourth Revolution, “hyperhistory,” ethical challenges in the digital era, and how we can design a better information society that is open, pluralistic, tolerant, equitable, and just.
Thank you very much for your time, Dr. Floridi. I appreciate you joining me today. To begin, one of the subjects that you have been steeped in for a long time is digital ethics. For our audiences who may not be familiar with these ideas, what is digital ethics and how did you come to study it?
Dr. Luciano Floridi:
‘Digital ethics’ is an umbrella concept that helps us to cover all the ethical issues that are transformed, exacerbated, or emerge for the first time due to digital technologies, as they are designed, developed, and deployed in our society. For example, issues of privacy, intellectual property, personal identity, transparency, accountability, the need to be able to explain what happens when you use technologies in decision processes, and so on. We can think of digital ethics as an ethics of an entire environment — the digital environment — much like environmental ethics or bioethics. Just as we understand ethics in an environmental or biological context by focusing on the unifying themes, we do the same with digital ethics, in the context of digital technologies. Under this umbrella, themes include data ethics, AI ethics (what was once known as “computer ethics”), information ethics, machine ethics, ethics of algorithms — these all fall under digital ethics at large.
At the Digital Ethics Lab, what are some of the main ethical challenges posed by digital technologies that you are tackling?
Dr. Luciano Floridi:
I like to distinguish between two main groups of ethical issues. First, there are issues that we all see around us — that we read in newspapers, watch on T.V., and share on social media like Facebook. For example, you would have had to be on the moon recently to have missed all the discussions of privacy, data, or the right to be forgotten. These issues are crucial, but they have been highlighted sufficiently now in our conversations. There is a second group of issues that are more long term and less visible because they are less immediately pressing. These are related to the development of technology and the way our technology is influencing us across decades of interactions — not immediately but across the next 10–20 years, on a daily basis.
I can give two examples that are most pressing from the view of my work, and which are connected. First is the issue of our flexibility and the way we are malleable. Human intelligence is definable in terms of our ability to be open to changing our mind, to listen to influence, etc. If we place this kind of intelligence next to tools that are constantly bombarding us, recommending to us, presenting us with distractions, nudging us all the time, clearly the question of “Who is influencing who?” is quite obvious. There is a big risk that we will be adapting to our technologies and not the other way around. For example, to trivialize, it means I will only have watched the film that Netflix recommended, read the book that Amazon recommended, taken the holiday trip that TripAdvisor recommended, and so on. The second issue, linked to this, is thus the erosion of autonomy. How far is my own decision really my own in the context, and how much has it been influenced by the technological environment in which I am operating?
What We’re Reading
Outside of Boston, a marketing company is struggling to figure out how to cover its bills. In Indiana, a dance studio is waiting on three emergency-loan applications. In Baltimore, a deli is closed and desperate for help.
Small businesses went into this recession more fragile than their larger cousins: Before the crisis hit, half of them had less than two weeks’ worth of cash on hand, making it impossible to cover rent, insurance, utilities, and payroll through any kind of sustained downturn. And the coronavirus downturn has indeed been shocking and sustained: Data from credit-card processors suggest that roughly 30 percent of small businesses have shut down during the pandemic. Transaction volumes, a decent-enough proxy for sales, show even bigger dips: Travel agencies are down 98 percent, photography studios 88 percent, day-care centers 75 percent, and advertising agencies 60 percent.
Like the US, Canadian small businesses were already walking a tightrope prior to COVID-19. On average, SMEs in Canada (representing 98% of all businesses) had four weeks’ cash on hand; any disruption in business activity lasting more than a month was likely to be disastrous. The large-scale economic downturn we are experiencing as a global community is leading many economists to predict a U-shaped, rather than a V-shaped road to recovery. While some industries may be more inherently resilient than others, a Canadian pathway to economic recovery cannot be divorced from innovative strategies to build the resilience, adaptability and scale-up power of homegrown SMEs. — Alexandra Cutean | email
‘We Are Not Essential. We Are Sacrificial.’ I’m a New York City Subway Conductor Who Had Covid-19 | Opinion
(The New York Times)
When I heard that a co-worker had died from Covid-19 — the first in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority — on March 27, I thought, “It’s starting.” More deaths followed in quick succession, frequently more than once a day. Some of those people I used to see every day and fist bump.
On Facebook, when bad news comes, my co-workers and I express grief and offer condolences to the families. But our spontaneous response is the numb curiosity of an onlooker. We knew this was coming. We knew many among us wouldn’t make it through the pandemic.
Every day I see posts on the M.T.A. workers’ group pages striking a jaunty tone: “Oh Lord, here we go. I got the symptoms, see you all in 14 days. Or not.”
We work at the epicenter of the epicenter, with a mortality rate substantially higher than that of first responders. Common sense tells you that subway trains and platforms are giant vectors of this virus. We breathe it in along with steel dust. As a conductor, when I stick my head out of the car to perform the required platform observation, passengers in many stations are standing 10 inches from my face. At other times, they lean into the cab to ask questions. Bus drivers, whose passengers enter right in front of them, are even worse off.
Alongside healthcare workers, many people in jobs deemed essential continue to support our societal needs, often with little in the ways of PPE and modest, if any, pay adjustments. Many of these workers are female or visible minorities; many were struggling financially prior to the onset of the pandemic. Covid-19 has not just stalled the economy, it has exacerbated social inequalities, and brought to light the very clear reality of precarious work. — Alexandra Cutean | email
This 2018 dataset from the CRTC shows Canada’s satellite-dependent communities, along with detailed information about broadband access levels, the latter of which is kept up-to-date with 2020 information here. For many in Northern Canada especially, connection to the rest of the country hinges on a single ISP and expensive or unreliable service. The telecommunications infrastructure challenges that go along with Canada’s vast geography are one of the factors informing Senior Director of Research and Policy Alexandra Cutean’s policy brief on MVNOs, featured in this week’s newsletter.
Competition across the economy is crucial. It ensures that consumers receive the best and most cost-effective services available, while industry is provided the freedom and opportunity to grow and develop. Although this is something that can analyzed from a number of different angles, this paper focuses on competitiveness in the Canadian telecommunications sector as key building block of the nation’s overall economic strength. Using mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) as a central consideration, this paper will showcase the value proposition of MVNOs as a first and important step in a future Canadian business landscape that is increasingly competitive, attractive, and robust.
Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) are resellers of network capacity. They lease or buy in bulk the excess network capacity of large or mainstream providers, and resell services to customers. Because the portion of the spectrum that they lease is usually unused by the large carriers, MVNOs can often offer services to customers at more cost-effective rates. As increased connectivity and autonomy are expected to be the foundation of the Canadian economy in the next number of years, MVNOs have the potential of enabling new services to empower IoT connectivity, Smart Cities, and even services like autonomous vehicles.
“In an ever-changing economy and consumer expectations, our ability as a nation to embrace new approaches to bolster economic activities and societal benefits are critical in the coming years. MVNOs have the potential of unleashing a new breed of affordable and reliable telecommunication services for tomorrow’s economy” — Namir Anani, ICTC President & CEO
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