CNet News Briefs
Saturday, December 27, 1997

Resolutions for Canada's high-tech industry

by Sam Ladner, sam@mhpublishing.com

With many Canadians busily listing their New Year's resolutions, we at CNET Briefs Canada have taken pen to paper -- so to speak -- to produce a list of resolutions for Canada's high tech industry.

1) Aggressively adopt online commerce standards

Despite Canadians' growing love affair with the Web, they still have cold feet when it comes to electronic commerce. Only four per cent of Canadians bought anything over the Internet in 1997.

Everyone from IBM to Deloitte & Touche agrees that online commerce has immense potential.

But for e-commerce to achieve the hockey-stick growth charts everyone keeps talking about, the public's fears over security must be addressed.

Skittish Web consumers are taking well to standards such as Secure Electronic Transaction, the protocol developed by Visa and Mastercard.

Proof in Advance, a Toronto-based vendor of educational audio and video cassettes, is still the only Canadian company to use the SET protocol on its Web site.

Online sales have not been explosive on Proof in Advance's Web site. But if we could increase the online selection to include more than "How to Teach Your Baby to Read," online commerce might really take off.

2) Connect all of Canada to the Internet

Urban Canadians can now take their pick from an array of high-speed Internet services, but their country cousins are still clamoring to get Internet access.

Northern and rural residents rely on very slow telephone lines or very expensive satellite connections. The benefits of the Web have yet to reach places like Nunavik.

In its second report published in April, the Information Highway Advisory Council made special mention of this inequality, urging the government to come up with a concrete plan to connect all of Canada to the Web.

The government has made some efforts to connect remote areas through its SchoolNet project, but no formal plan had been announced by the end of the year.

Internet access will mean more to rural Canadians than just surfing the Web. It would mean access to medical specialists through telemedicine. It would give schoolchildren access to libraries and educational resources from across Canada. And it would give new meaning to the Canadian ideal of universal access.

3) Recruit more women into high tech

Canadian high-tech companies scrambled to fill as many as 30,000 unfilled jobs in 1997.

The Software Human Resources Council reports that 54 per cent of Canadian high-tech companies are desperate enough to sponsor international applicants to fill their vacant positions.

Meanwhile, 51 per cent of Canada's population remained high tech's biggest untapped resource.

While demand for highly skilled workers grew over the last few years, the numbers of women earning degrees in computer science actually fell. In 1996, only 16 per cent of computer science degrees were granted to women, down from 28 per cent in 1994.

Some progress has been made to encourage more women to study computer science. Notably, IBM hosted Canada's first conference on women in technology in November.

But Canadian companies have spent more time lobbying the government to ease immigration restrictions than they have spent recruiting women.

4) Change the domain name registration process

Only 23,000 .ca domain names are registered in Canada today, suggesting that many Canadian companies choose to register .com addresses.

This appears to be the preference, despite the annual $50 US fee for the name and despite the risk of civil litigation, should the name intrude on an American company's Web territory.

But given the current .ca registration process, it's no surprise that Canadians opt for the more fashionable .com domain name.

Registering a domain name in Canada is a both a pleasure and an annoyance. In true Canadian style, a volunteer committee grants a .ca domain name for free, but forces the applicant the withstand a stringent screening process that has more to do with protocol than technical issues.

Several prominent Canadian technology associations have taken the bull by the horns and initiated change to the .ca registration process. The Canadian Association of Internet Providers and the Canadian Network for the Advancement of Research, Industry and Education have begun writing recommendations to make the .ca process more like the .com process.

Here's hoping their resolve continues until the process is as simple as the American one.

Copyright © 1997 by Rogers Multi-Media and CNET, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.