By Lorraine Rousseau
More than a year ago, we found ourselves facing still unfamiliar routines: health restrictions limiting in-person gatherings. Many across Canada, and the globe, must turn to the virtual world, it is a necessity. We all depend on the internet for connectivity at work, school, and home, this has become the safest (and in many circumstances) the only option during the pandemic. But for the North?
The CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) recognized in August 2020 that a supplemental was required to the Communications Monitoring Report specifically detailing service and service providers in the North. It was published November 2020 – did you know that? Me neither. Research on Telecommunications Services in Northern Canada: https://epe.lac-bac.gc.ca/100/200/301/pwgsc-tpsgc/por-ef/crtc/2021/023-20-e/POR023-20_report.pdf (ironically a link).
The reality in the North is we do not need to imagine not having access to the internet, it happens quite frequently. When access is available, the stability of connecting is not consistent enough to be reliable. Referred in the participant driven report, detailed findings, the most common themes? High Prices; Slow Speeds and Unreliable Service, sound familiar? In a matter of only a few kilometres: this small distance can make the difference of no overage charges (unlimited data) or rebalancing your budget to accommodate the extra costs. That is if your household can afford a service plan, many feel that internet access at home is unattainable. Our medical appointments, school and learning opportunities, commerce and connection with family, friends and services; some communities have been subjected to consecutive days without home internet access – how can employers of Northern workers have an expectation of productive work when we are unable to rely on the services predominantly available to the rest of Canada.
On behalf of the Government of Canada, the Honourable Bernadette Jordan, Canada’s first Minister of Rural Economic Development; (https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/139.nsf/eng/h_00002.html) provided statements that included that Canada faces a connectivity gap: further stating: “Overwhelmingly, rural and remote communities have identified challenges accessing affordable, high-speed Internet as the number one issue impeding their economic growth. This was the message heard loud and clear in developing Canada’s Connectivity Strategy and the broader Rural Economic Development Strategy.”
How loud and clear must we be?
A decade ago, UN declared access to the internet as a human right. Connectivity is a human right in a world where marginalized communities are facing increasing inequality that’s deepened during the pandemic.
Over the past few years, promises have been made to bridge the gap and invest in infrastructure. Northern communities need commitments to keep promises— this should not only be projects to be implemented in the next decades, but an immediate and urgent action that addresses this gap at the present.
How serious is the connectivity gap? It’s significant enough to disconnect the North from Southern Canada.
Whether you’re affected or not, please take action. No one should be left behind. If there is any lesson this pandemic has shown us it’s how vital it is to stay connected. Call Members of Parliaments and territorial and federal leaders, let them know that this is a top priority for individuals, families and communities in the North.
CLOSE THE DIGITAL DIVIDE CANADA!
This article originally appeared in the Yellowknifer on October 28, 2021