Progress made to boost connectivity in remote areas
Most northerners lack high-speed Internet access
This country is covered by an inconsistent patchwork of Internet capabilities, speeds and opportunities. The pronounced digital divide separates Canadians: rich from poor, urban from rural and southern from northern.
According to a Statistics Canada survey, nearly all top income earners in Canada had good Internet access, yet only 58 per cent of households with incomes of $30,000 or less were connected.
A fifth of those households said they did not have Internet access at home, “because of the cost of the service or equipment,” the survey found.
Similarly, high-speed Internet access is available to all Canadians living in urban areas, but only to 85 per cent in rural areas. It gets even worse in the far north: only 27 per cent of communities in Nunavut have high-speed Internet access.
Economically challenged or geographically remote communities face socio-economic challenges without access to reliable high-speed broadband connections. Development of the region’s valuable natural resources can be stymied without the kind of connectivity that boosts businesses in other regions.
In response, the federal government made a budget commitment to provide $305 million over five years to improve high-speed Internet access for some 280,000 underserved households and businesses in Canada.
Yet that might not be enough to address the connection gap in remote parts of the country, or to avoid negative economic consequences in their overall development and economic contributions.
The promised government funding is small relative to other national commitments. In the U.S., a national broadband plan commits some $350 billion. In Australia, which has similar geographic challenges to Canada, investment passed $40 billion.
Nevertheless, funding from the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CanNor) will be used for important broadband connectivity enhancement projects, such as the Mackenzie Valley Fibre Link, and at the community level in Colville Lake, Northwest Ter- ritories.
Colville Lake will get enhanced digital communications capabilities with the purchase of IT equipment and upgrades to information systems in the region.
“Although we are a very small, isolated community we rely on the Internet for our daily business and community government operations; therefore we are very pleased with the proposed upgrade,” said Joseph Kochon, Behdzi Ahda First Nation band manager.
Meanwhile, in the western Arctic’s Mackenzie Delta area, regional telecom provider Northwestel is working with equipment maker and service provider Fujitsu in a five-year modernization project to boost Internet speeds.
It’s designed to let northern businesses communicate more effectively using video conferencing, for example. Educators can stream multimedia content into the classrooms. Government institutions will be able to better serve citizens by putting routine tasks online; and northern consumers will have a faster broadband experience in their homes, one that’s much more commonplace in the south.
Colville Lake in the Northwest Territories is one of many remote or rural Canadian communities that could benefit from better Internet connectivity. The federal government has committed funds to boost high speed broadband access here, and other areas...