During your morning coffee, you check Twitter for industry news. You then head to your desk and check your email. Your calendar alerts you of an upcoming Skype call with a partner in the UK. Your workday likely starts and ends on the internet.

In today’s environment, small businesses rely heavily on quality internet access. Having a strong internet enables entrepreneurship—Canada consistently ranks high in global entrepreneurship indices (according to StartUpBlink, we’re third best in the world for startup environment)—our country’s global rank in terms of information and communications technology fell to 29th place in 2017 (source: ICU’s ICT Development Index as described in 2018 Canada’s Internet Factbook). Not a great place to be for a modern, tech-friendly country, like ours.

At the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), we know a thing or two about the current state of Canada’s internet. If your website’s domain name ends in .ca, that’s how you might have heard of us before: we manage the .ca domain name registry. Beyond that, we’re also involved in several initiatives to help build a better online Canada, including cybersecurity and infrastructure.

As the internet evolves and grows, enabling us to do more and more online—so do the risks associated with it. It’s important to keep up with technological advances and understand how they affect your business.

Let’s examine a few key moments in recent internet news and see what’s in store for the year ahead.

Building Canada’s internet infrastructure

Fun fact: Halifax to Dublin is the fastest route for internet data to cross the ocean. If you’ve never given a second thought about how the internet actually works, you’re not alone. But it’s something small business should know.

CIRA is working with Canadian communities to build more Internet Exchange Points, or IXPs, and encouraging businesses and organizations to peer within them. Why? Building local internet infrastructure helps strengthen our data sovereignty—the more IXPs we have in Canada, the less data has to bounce around and cross international borders. By connecting to an IXP, your business can create a shortcut to your partners, to cloud services and to local internet service providers (ISPs).

If you have an online business and exchange a lot of traffic with other organizations (both in Canada and internationally), you should be aware of where your data flows when it’s in transit. Peering directly with an IXP can help improve your data sovereignty—and that’s not just something for large businesses—there’s no such thing as a business that’s too small to connect to an IXP.

You should also look at ISPs to better understand trace routes (where your internet traffic goes). If you’re interested in learning more about this, check out IXmaps, a tool developed by researchers at the University of Toronto that enables you to see how data travels across the internet.

Businesses need to be more aware of their online footprint. When it comes to things like cloud providers and web hosting there are many Canadian providers to help keep your data in Canada when needed.

Addressing gaps in Canada’s internet

Improving the infrastructure, or the pipes, of the internet is a priority; equally important is addressing the social issues around access and digital literacy.

In late 2016, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) declared broadband internet a basic service, paving the way to universal access of broadband internet. While a step in the right direction, in 2018, CIRA found some Canadians face gaps like reliable home internet access and digital literacy skills. Fortunately, there are initiatives across the country helping address these gaps, including CIRA’s Community Investment Program, where we provide more than $1 million in grants annually to Canadian not-for-profits, charities and academic institutions doing good things for Canada’s internet.

Reaching a certain level of digital literacy is important for small business owners to thrive in a world where e-commerce is taking off. While Canadian e-commerce is admittedly a bit slow, it’s a growing opportunity to reach your customers and will keep your businesses competitive in our digital world.

A growing concern for privacy

Recently, there has been a lot of buzz about changes to Canada’s privacy regulations, also known as the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents act (commonly referred to as PIPEDA). CIRA’s 2018 Cybersecurity Survey Report found that just over a third of Canadian small and medium-sized businesses lacked awareness of PIPEDA requirements. If Canadians aren’t up to speed on local privacy regulations, what about international ones?

If you’re selling anywhere in the European Union, you’re hopefully aware that massive changes took place regarding the landmark EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May.

Whatever the magnitude or type of data your business is taking in, it’s your responsibility to understand the local privacy laws of the various markets to which you’re selling. With increased consumer awareness on data privacy, we can expect to see a push for more privacy regulation and that businesses are held accountable for the customer data they collect.

A battle for net neutrality continues

Net neutrality is the principle that all content on the internet is treated equally. It was a hot topic in 2018, with our eyes on the net neutrality protections repealed by the U.S.’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in June.

Why should Canadian businesses care about net neutrality? Well, a fight for strong net neutrality protections mean that ISPs can’t favour internet traffic (say, from a big business with a lot of leverage) over that of a smaller one who may be trying to break into the market). Net neutrality is a means to fair competition and innovation for businesses.

Last year gave us better news here at home than in the U.S.: Canada’s House of Commons adopted a motion in May to formally enshrine net neutrality into law, however, the battle continues in the U.S.

What lies ahead?

Having strong, stable, fast internet infrastructure has never been more important. A website that loads too slowly could result in lost revenue, and not having access to the internet at all can have a serious impact on your quality of life.  

While Canada internet infrastructure and digital literacy are both relatively strong, CIRA is working to ensure we never fall behind, helping our businesses stay competitive and our citizens stay connected.

Our internet continues to grow. Communities are rallying in PEI, Iqaluit, Saint John, NB, Whitehorse and Yellowknife to build IXPs and in turn create a more resilient local internet.

If you’re interested in learning more, stay tuned for the Canadian Internet Governance Forum, coming this February. This event will bring together stakeholders from across the country to discuss the key internet issues our country is facing.