Progress made to boost con­nec­tiv­ity in re­mote ar­eas

Most north­ern­ers lack high-speed In­ter­net ac­cess

Calgary Herald - - BUSINESS - LEE RICKWOOD WHATSYOURT­ECH. CA

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.

Les­lie Philipp/Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

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...

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