RÉSUMÉ: Le développement d'une infrastructure de l'information au Canada, basé sur une vision canadienne, est essentiel pour notre futur bienêtre économique et social. Pour maximiser les bienfaits tirés d'une infrastructure de l'information, tous les Canadiens doivent participer aux débats publics sur les politiques du développement de celle-ci. "The Ontario Library Association" a créé la "Coalition for Public Information" afin d'engager plus de Canadiens dans cette discussion et pour fournir une voix se faisant l'écho de l'intérêt public pour guider le développement de l'autoroute informatique et électronique.
Canadians tend to look south to determine the nature of their own future. This is nowhere more evident than in the development of the information highway. A few years back current Vice-President Al Gore and other visionaries began to develop the concept of the information highway. The highway was seen as a critical new element in maintaining the American economy, way of life, and competitive advantage in the global economy. The Americans began to develop guiding principles, working models, corporate ventures and legislation to make the information highway a reality.
However before pursuing this line of thought any further I would like to provide some parameters for the discussion. The information highway is defined as an integrated network of networks, linking telephone, cable television, and wireless communications systems in a high-speed, high bandwidth environment, to deliver interactive voice, data, text, graphic and video services.
The most important thing to note with this definition is that the information highway, so defined, does not yet exist. The highway is still on the drawing boards, although various companies and governments are working very hard to position themselves for a major role in developing and controlling the highway. Various electronic information paths do exist but they are a long way from highway status.
What functions for many of us now as the information highway is the Internet. The Internet is a world-wide network of networks that are linked to each other by the IP protocol. The Internet Protocol allows a packet of digitalized information to travel from network to network until it finds the computer it has been sent to.
The Internet is not the highway for a variety of reasons. First, in most cases it does not have the bandwidth capacity to deliver all the wonderful things the information highway is supposed to be able to.
Secondly, only 4% of Canadian households have modems so that the current early versions of the information footpaths are in fact available to very few. The technology is not friendly so even if there was a modem in every pot a great number of Canadians would not be able to utilize this communications resource as it currently exists.
Although a very important component of the information highway in that it has enabled a new form of global communication, the Internet is not positioned to serve the commercial interests which are essential for our economic well-being. In fact at the moment it looks like we may end up with at least two information highways. One may be of the Internet variety linking universities, hospitals, research centres, schools, libraries and which will be accessible from the home or workplace. The other may be the infotainment and commercial version currently being fought over by the telephone, broadcast and cable television industries which will be as ubiquitous as TV and telephone service.
Back to the Americans. Canadians viewed the rapid development of the information highway concept in the United States with great interest. The Americans began a broad and multi-faceted debate on the nature of the information highway. A wide range of groups were formed to influence public thought and government directions. These included the following to name just a few:
This is probably the reason that when the Canadian media finally decided that the information highway was topical most of the articles focused on proclaiming that the information highway is mainly hype. It isn't, but the low level of public involvement and hence understanding at all levels could easily bring about this interpretation.
The Ontario Library Association (OLA) viewed these developments with great concern. The Association had a long term interest and commitment to information policy issues. In 1990 the Association released One Place to Look: the Ontario Public Library Strategic Plan. The plan called for governments to develop information policies and strategies to support a public information grid. The Association followed this initiative with a Proposal for an Information Policy for Ontario, which was subsequently endorsed by in the Report of the Advisory Committee on a Telecommunications Strategy for the Province of Ontario. Unfortunately, the preoccupation of the Government of Ontario with the social contract tended to stop the momentum in the development of information strategies and infrastructures in that province.
The Ontario Library Association was particularly concerned about several evolving trends. One was that the traditional role of libraries in providing public access to the human record was being eroded as funding support for libraries diminished at a time when funding increases were required. Libraries and the communities they serve were being left behind in a Gutenbergian universe as the world moved on to the digitalized, electronic information age. There seemed to be no public information institution positioned to provide public access to this digitalized resource.
Secondly, governments in their growing desperation to find more spending money were increasingly viewing information as a tradeable commodity. They could increase revenues by selling the information they had in their possession, even though the information was by definition, public. Governments saw the information highway as an opportunity to collect tolls rather than as enabler of enhanced communication and information transfer which would lead to economic and social growth.
Thirdly, the information highway was going to be dominated by non- Canadian (read American) data and information. The electronic information age was going to be mono-visual in that it would only reflect one viewpoint. The distinctly Canadian way of viewing the world and the value system it represents was not going to be presented on the information highway.
Finally, on the macro level, the future of Canada's economic well-being and hence social progress was going to depend on all Canadians' participation in the development and use of the information highway. Canada must find another source of wealth creation. Manufacturing, housing starts, resource extraction were no longer capable of supporting Canadian aspirations for a good standard of living. Thirty thousand unemployed fishermen on the east coast are clear testimony to this reality. The multi-faceted information highway is one of the few opportunities that presents itself.
In order to maximize the benefits to Canadians from the information highway the greatest possible number of Canadians must be involved in its planning and development. We must all be involved in order to understand its potential for innovation and creative application.
To pursue these goals the Ontario Library Association created the Coalition for Public Information. The Coalition is to provide the public interest voice in the information age. The Coalition's goal is to ensure that the developing information infrastructure in Canada serves the public interest, focuses on human communication and provides universal access to information.
The Coalition will work to:
The Coalition For Public Information c/o Ontario Library Association 303-100 Lombard Street Toronto Ontario M5C 1M3 or: email@example.com