For many of us, access to the internet is a given. We use it daily for work and play. Of course, this is not the reality for all Canadians and the same was true in 2015 when the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) began looking into broadband internet use and affordability in Canada. The result was an announcement that Canadians everywhere should have access to broadband internet services on fixed and mobile wireless networks.
But how did the CRTC come to this decision?
To answer that question you may need to dig through thousands of pages of submissions, a task most Canadians are unlikely to undertake. However, a new online tool – Cybera's Policy Browser Tool – will make it easier for all Canadians to understand and engage with the CRTC's consultation data and its decisions.
The CRTC is a 50-year-old administrative tribunal that regulates and supervises broadcasting and telecommunications in the public interest in Canada. As part of their consultation process in 2015, they asked the following three questions:
Which telecommunications services do Canadians require to participate in the digital economy?
How are Canadians currently using broadband internet and how available?
How available and affordable are these services?
The CRTC called for submissions to its consultation on “Basic Telecommunication Services” and thousands eagerly responded with what they thought the future of Canada's internet should look like. Groups including telecommunication companies, non-profit organizations, families and more from across the country offered their opinions in hopes of swaying the CRTC in their preferred direction. Although the submissions are publicly available, they are largely inaccessible for the average person due to the varying formats. As well, the sheer number of submissions make it difficult to find, aggregate, and analyze the data within.
How Cybera's Policy Browser tool makes data more accessible
Thanks to the data science team at Cybera, Alberta's not-for-profit technology accelerator, and funding from CIRA's Community Investment Program, a data mining tool was built to collect and analyze the 65,000+ pages of material. The goal of Cybera's Policy Browser tool is to better clarify if and how government decisions are made based on the public's input.
Cybera's Policy Browser tool uses machine learning techniques to extract the text in an accessible format and is built with the user in mind. Users can search by individual submission or navigate through the documents according to organization, timeline, queries or questions. They are even able to download .csv files to run further analysis and engage more closely with the data.
The tool also facilitates the consultation data using bigram maps. These images pull from the data to visualize the connections between frequently used words and how they are associated with other words. For example, when discussing affordability, telecom companies and industry groups tend to use words like commission, business and income. Whereas advocacy groups use terms like budget, food and access.
The Cybera Policy Browser was built using open source tools, making the source code available to anyone who wants to apply it to their own data mining applications. Currently everything in the existing tool is related to the CRTC's 2015 consultation, but that doesn't need to be the case. This tool can be used for any consultation, past or present, so there is no need to reinvent the wheel each time.
What is next for Cybera? They have expressed an interest in engaging with the CRTC to collect and apply their feedback. They have also talked about making the tool even more accessible. The future potential of Cybera's Policy Browser is endless and the team is eager to grow the project and further its impact.
The Community Investment Program
CIRA is building a better online Canada through the Community Investment Program by funding innovative projects led by charities, not-for-profits and academic institutions that are making the internet better for all Canadians. CIRA is best known for our role managing the .CA domain on behalf of all Canadians. While this remains our primary mandate, as a member-based not-for-profit ourselves, we have a much broader goal to strengthen Canada's internet. The Community Investment Program is one of our most valuable contributions toward this goal and funds projects in infrastructure, digital literacy, research and online services. Every .CA domain name registered or renewed contributes to this program. To date, CIRA has supported 102 projects with over $4.2 million in contributions.