The following is attributed to Duane Ningaqsiq Smith, Chair and Chief Executive Officer, Inuvialuit Regional Corporation and Mark Buell, Chief, North American Regional Bureau, Internet Society
RESTON, Va., Jan. 5, 2019 /CNW/ -- As we start to make good on those 2019 New Year's resolutions, we hope the federal government will put a 10-year plan to bring Canada online at the top of its list.
A quarter century has passed since the Speech from the Throne where former Prime Minister Jean Chretien said Canada was creating a strategy to pave the 'information highway' about to revolutionize communications and economies worldwide.
Today about two million Canadians are still without fast, affordable, and reliable Internet access. When there is a growing worry from the business community about Canada's ability to stay competitive in an uncertain world, that's two million households we simply cannot afford to lose.
But like many of our New Year's resolutions, closing Canada's digital divide will take time and it will require an investment.
Just last October the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) called for the federal government to commit $4 billion over 10 years to get all Canadians up to speed.
While $400 million per year over 10 years is a big price tag, it's worth it. And it needs to start this year.
In a report to Parliament entitled Connectivity in Rural and Remote Areas last November, Auditor General Michael Ferguson said the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED)'s reluctance to create a broadband plan also means people lack critical online services such as education, banking, and healthcare.
The newly-released 2018 Indigenous Connectivity Summit (ICS) Community Report shows how these connectivity challenges are not only accurate, but disproportionately affect Indigenous communities throughout Canada.
The $4 billion the FCM says is needed is a solid number based on Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) estimates that bringing underserved regions to its universal service target will cost $5 billion for rural areas and $2 billion for the North. FCM hopes provincial and private contributions would get Ottawa's commitment closer to the full $7 billion required.
The 2018 ICS report highlights some of the huge barriers like geography to overcome, particularly in remote northern communities where it is difficult to achieve economies of scale.
The Internet has always thrived because it was founded on principals of openness and accessibility. The Internet is for everyone, because only everyone can make the global network of networks. Similarly, the only way to create an economy for all Canadians is by making sure everyone has access.
If millions of people are left behind this won't work.
In Northwest Territories, for instance, Internet connectivity is a prerequisite to economic growth and both renewable and non-renewable resource development. Companies increasingly rely on connectivity for their daily operations. For the region to be competitive and attract prospectors, explorers and tourists – that service must be available.
Education, business, research and health support in remote communities are also heavily dependent on access to broadband.
Thanks to a distance learning program, three students in the remote Arctic hamlet of Ulukhaktok, NT, were the first to graduate high school within their community and were later accepted to university last year. Before then, students would either have to move away or pursue independent study to get the credits needed for admission to post-secondary schooling.
By the way, Northwestel's fastest Internet package available in Ulukhaktok will get you 45 GB of data at 5Mbps/1Mbps for a whopping $229.95 per month. It's a far cry from CRTC's universal service target of 50Mbps/10Mbps with an unlimited data option.
To truly close the digital divide, we need to aim for infrastructure solutions so that every household can keep up to a rapidly changing world of communications technology and products requiring speeds 100 to 1,000 times faster than what our best-connected regions already get.
We also need to ensure Indigenous voices are included in the solutions. The 2018 ICS Report offers several recommendations for the federal government to consider in developing a national broadband strategy. They include ongoing consultation with Indigenous communities and more funding opportunities for community networks, which are local solutions that empower communities to address connectivity gaps on their own terms.
The federal investment would also go a long way to support economic growth, self-determination, language and cultural revitalization, and improving education and health outcomes in Indigenous communities. These are all Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to action.
The Inuvialuit Regional Corporation recently launched an online eLearning component of the IFA-101 initiative to provide a new generation of Inuvialuit and Canadians a greater understanding of the Inuvialuit Final Agreement, and the history of the land claim agreement. Without access to adequate broadband, Inuvialuit would be hard-pressed to find educational tools with such important cultural significance.
And let's face it – two million households with voters who can't access fast, affordable and sustainable Internet can't be ignored.
Developing a broadband strategy is a critical part of the solution, but we simply can't succeed without the adequate funds to finish the job. While ISED's $500 million Connect to Innovate program and the CRTC's $750 million Broadband Fund are steps in the right direction, piecemeal funding isn't enough.
Committing the initial $400 million to fund universal connectivity in the 2019-20 budget will take political courage and leadership from the governing Liberals as we head into an election year. But it's critical.
The only way to build an economy that is truly for everyone is by making a bold investment to ensure Indigenous voices are included in the future of the Internet.
SOURCE Internet Society