Since it’s that time in the Yukon again, when possibly the grumpiest and most disgruntled population in Canada gets to stir the electoral pot, I figured I’d spend the next few weeks leading up to the election throwing my own two cents into the mix.
Don’t be surprised if none of your local candidates come knocking at your door with these ideas (though, feel free to borrow ’em, you guys). The hot air that’s lifting the fog off of the Whitehorse valley these days is obviously more about winning votes than discussing real policy – heck, we all know about the difference between election-speak and the closed door of a caucus room.
So without further ado, I hereby launch my bid to become the unofficial whiner of the invisible community of information technology professionals during this election. One caveat I’ll point out right up-front: this is not a comprehensive policy; it totally ignores most social and infrastructure issues. Really, it’s all about winning the silent-but-deadly geek vote.
First off, honourable candidate, if you want my vote, tell me your future government is going to develop a comprehensive, standards-based, publicly-accessible technology policy. And tell me you’re going to share it with everybody else in the Yukon and help us adopt it.
To support this policy, some form of arms-length management body, like an ombudsman, should be established to regulate and govern the government’s technology standards and the complex relationship it represents between itself, local industry, and the public.
Along with standardization of internal practices, the next premier also needs to renew his government’s commitment to a multi-year information technology sector strategy that would affect the government, the public, local industry and the local economy’s view of the global region.
In the past an ad hoc association of industry representatives called the Yukon Information Technology Industry Society has attempted to manage this important strategy on behalf of the government. However, the government’s support for YITIS is really just a way for it to shirk its formal leadership responsibility to the public.
The next government needs to pick up the mantle and adopt the work that YITIS has done up to now. They then need to fast-track its further development, adoption and management in the interests of developing a significant new facet of the Yukon’s economy in the short term.
Using this strategy, the next government needs to begin to lead us in an economic migration away from the Yukon’s roots of diminishing non-renewable natural resources and towards a more stable, self-renewing information and technology base. Let’s re-adopt the mentality of the “pioneer” but leave the past in the past. Think Ireland. Think India. Let’s trade our sore placer-mining backs for some wrist-borne repetitive-stress-injuries.
We can do this in several ways: improve our telecommunications infrastructure, improve the local economic and social community to promote adoption of technology into lifestyle, and collectively market our industry to the world as an effective base of skilled information professionals.
Of course, as I’m well-known to opine openly, the first step in this direction must involve a drastic improvement of the territory’s telecommunications infrastructure.
It’s obvious to anyone that our current infrastructure is stretched to the limit. Access to internet bandwidth fluctuates and degrades systemically. Cell phone calls, even from Wal-Mart in Whitehorse (the territory’s symbolic community hub), are of an abysmally poor quality and prone to being dropped.
The next government needs to pledge its support to this infrastructure upgrade.
Specifically, the next government needs to ensure we get internet access redundancy in the near term so that a backhoe can’t shut us down. That means more, bigger pipes south. The Yukon currently crawls along on a single link that bogs down painfully during coffee break when all the government workers go porn-surfing (sorry, you guys left yourself open for that one; I know you’re really just downloading pirated MP3s).
We need a 3G mobile phone network that supports live video streaming and high speed data transfer, at least in Whitehorse.
We need free or low-cost high-speed wireless internet in our largest “urban” areas, say Whitehorse, Watson Lake and Dawson City.
Why do we need these seeming extravagances?
Simple: these are becoming standard infrastructure elements in the world’s information technology hubs. If the Yukon has any interest at all in building an information industry and attracting new professionals, we’ve got to step out of the IT stone age. We’re easily 10 years behind current global technology standards and unless we quicken our pace, we’ll never catch up to the opportunities that are floating around out there.
Are you still with me, candidates? Good. Next week I’ll dig into how the government can help everyone release their inner geek and how we can build a local information service industry to take on the world.
First published in the Yukon News on Friday, September 22, 2006.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Canada License.