Archive for August, 2010

What does public service renewal mean to you?

I was recently asked on a survey “what does public service renewal mean to you?”. The Canada School of Public Service, Privy Council Office and other government institutions generally define it as:

…an ongoing process of pursuing and achieving excellence in all that the public service does, now and in the future. It is about having a workforce that can adapt to complex and changing environments and that continues to excel in delivering policies, programs and services to the people of Canada.

The first part of that definition is fluff. “Excellence” is a buzzword that most public servants are tired of hearing. The second part of that definition, which references the ability to adapt, is closer to my understanding of PS Renewal.

To me, renewal is about adaptation. Adaptation to new technologies, new realities and new occupations. There are trends occurring in society, such as a move towards more open communication, diversity of cultural practices, the desire of individuals to play a role in the policy process and the speed at which decisions are expected. Today, the process at arriving at a decision carries more merit and worth than the decision itself. Therefore, it is increasingly important for government to collaborate, with the public it serves and with each other. Government has for too long been characterized by its hierarchical nature and siloed approach. These features of modern government remain inconsistent with the changing reality that the public service finds itself operating within.

Efforts to adapt the public service to these cultural, demographic, social and economic trends are what I consider Public Service Renewal.

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The Internet is Doomed – Google / Verizon Net Neutrality Deal

2010 marks a sad year for the internet.

Google and Verizon, two leading players in Internet service and content, announced an agreement that could allow Verizon (and other internet service providers) to allow special access (speedier access) to Internet content if users are willing (and able) to pay for the privilege. Also, companies could pay internet service providers money to ensure that its content received priority as it made its way to consumers. For example, search “Net Neutrality Deal” into Google and instead of my blog having the same chance as the New York Times, whoever paid the ISP more would get #1 in Google’s search result.

Even Jeff Jarvis, a stout defender of the “Google way of life” came out against the alleged deal between the two companies.

This decision goes against one of the founding principles of the internet, net neutrality. Currently, Internet users get access to any Web site on an equal basis. Corporate home pages, political websites, forums and blogs all show up on a user’s screen in the same way when their addresses are typed into a browser. This will now change, allowing corporations to decide which information on the internet has priority over others.

Google has since defended its position, stating that: “We have taken a backseat to no one in our support for an open internet. We offered this proposal in the spirit of compromise. Others might have done it differently, but we think locking in key enforceable protections for consumers is progress and preferable to no protection.”

Protection for consumers? Essentially, the Google / Verizon deal proposes that Congress allow wireless services to remain free from regulation, for now, implying that the issue would remain under “continual discussion”. Why the initial compromise? The way I understand compromise, is some sort of “middle of the ground” solution, i.e. both sides give up something in order to find common ground. In this instance, compromise would mean giving faster access to police, medical professionals or emergency responders, not Monsanto, Suncor or the big banks.

There is, however, a piece of this entire debate that I find missing in all the opinion articles and news reports that I read: why are Google and Verizon the ones who get to decide the future of the internet? Where is the government’s leadership (i.e. the Federal Communications Commission) on this one?

Julius Genachowski is the current chairman of the FCC and an avowed net neutrality supporter. Months ago, Julius Genachowski met with industry leaders to discuss this issue. No public interest groups were invited. At that meeting, it was decided that Google and Verizon should broker a deal on behalf of the industry and consumers. This assumed, wrongly, that Google was on the side of public interest groups (consumers).

At minimum, the role of government in society should be one of mediator. There are interests to protect in society that for-profit companies do not concern themselves with (rightly so, they are not in the business of promoting consumer rights). In this debate, profit is the only thing being debated here because both Verizon and Google are in the business to make money. On the other side of the debate, government should represent the broader interests of society, such as rights, equality, fairness, transparency, etc. An open internet protects everything from democracy (as in the case with Twitter feeds from the riots taking place in Iran) to innovation (the onslaught of social media websites that have changed the way we communicate). If individuals in Iran had to subscribe to “premium services” in order to upload pictures to their Twitter feed, would they? Possibly, but it certainly doesn’t create incentives to do so.

In the end, money rules. Google is evil.

For details on the profit motives of Google behind this whole fiasco, see Ryan Single’s article Why Google Became A Carrier-Humping, Net Neutrality Surrender Monkey

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