Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, many Canadians have had no choice but to work, socialize and learn online. It’s highlighted more than ever the digital divide for Canadians who don’t have reliable access to high-quality internet at home.
To help overcome these challenges, CIRA is working to improve access for internet users across the country. Our Community Investment Program grants provide funding for projects that help build a trusted internet for Canadians. This includes infrastructure initiatives that provide internet access to remote, rural and Indigenous communities who often struggle with connectivity issues.
To date, CIRA has provided $6.7 million in grants for 151 projects that improve digital literacy, internet infrastructure and internet access to Canadians. You can see all of the projects we’ve funded here.
Given the unique challenges facing internet users during COVID-19, we thought we’d share a handful of projects we’ve funded to help get more Canadians online with high-quality access:
1. We’re helping the Winnipeg Metropolitan Region connect remote and rural communities with high-speed internet.
Our Community Investment Program is providing funding for a high-speed fibre optic installation that will connect 16 underserviced remote and rural communities in the Winnipeg area. This lays the groundwork for further projects that aim to deliver high-speed internet and connect Manitoba’s businesses, farms, homes and institutions.
2. CIRA funded the pilot phase of a mesh networking project connecting Rigolet, Nunatsiavut, Labrador.
The Indigenous community in Rigolet is now benefiting from support for a mobile mesh network that uses existing local Bluetooth, WiFi and WiFi direct enabled mobile technologies to improve the community's connectivity and ability to share digital resources. After CIRA’s seed funding in 2017 to get the project started, the University of Guelph School of Computer Science received additional funding from the federal government to expand the program.
“Improved connectivity in the North will help communities collect and share the data that are important to them, and connect in ways they never could have before,” said Daniel Gillis, project lead and professor at the University of Guelph.
3. SimpleCell infrastructure is providing high-speed internet cell access to Port au Port Peninsula Newfoundland residents.
This project allows residents without high-speed internet to access it from their cell phones and mobile devices within the Francophone region of the Port au Port Peninsula on the west coast of Newfoundland. The lack of cell service in the area is a safety concern, and it’s hindered economic development. CIRA’s Holly Story grew up in rural Newfoundland and was especially excited about this first-ever Newfoundland and Labrador project being funded through the Community Investment Program last year.
“When you live on an island, there’s no where else to go but other rural communities,” said Holly. “In Labrador today, you have to bring a satellite phone with you in case of an emergency because of the lack of cell and internet service.”
4. We’re growing wireless infrastructure in Samson Cree First Nation, Alberta with Mamawapowin Technology Society.
Our Community Investment Program grant support is helping the Mamawapowin Technology Society strengthen an accessible wireless network that will reach every household in Samson Cree First Nation. The Mamawapowin Technology Society is also leading digital literacy training and providing high quality community connectivity for local residents in Northern Alberta.
5. With help from CIRA, Orillia Christian Centre is providing internet access and digital literacy to the homeless.
“Through the CIRA grant, our whole campus will have wi-fi and we’ve seen what a different it will make,” said Deirdre Gibson from the Orillia Christian Centre. As they’ve been expanding their shelter space, she said the homeless people they serve have been housed in a local hotel where they’ve had free wi-fi for the first time. They’ve been learning about using their cellphones, and two have already found their own permanent homes by being able to search online.
“We’re seeing firsthand how internet access is giving power and dignity back to homeless people.”
The Centre is providing internet for the community and education on digital literacy that will serve as a best practice to share with other organizations addressing homelessness.
Stay tuned! We will be announcing our grant recipients for 2020 later in June.
If you’d like to learn more about how you can apply for a Community Investment Program grant, you can check out our program overview here.