Community groups and other not-for-profits working in digital development find it difficult to access funds – and the attention of policy-makers.
This piece originally appeared in Policy Options on April 30, 2021.
The search is on for a “one-size-fits-all” solution that connects all Canadians to fast internet and gives them the skills they need to thrive online. Unfortunately, this solution doesn’t exist.
Canada’s telecommunications providers have gotten us a long way towards universal connectivity. But community groups, researchers and charities also play an important role in advancing Canada’s digital development objectives. Scores of groups lead projects to promote digital equity for all Canadians – both in terms of actual access to broadband services, as well as the skills needed to participate in our increasingly digital society. Equity in this context doesn’t mean getting the latest iPhone into every Canadian’s hand. It means addressing the digital imbalances that are holding communities back.
These groups face tremendous challenges. In October, my organization, the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), published a report titled Unconnected: Funding shortfalls, policy imbalances and how they are contributing to Canada’s digital underdevelopment.
We set out to understand the funding landscape for digital development projects in Canada, led 50 in-depth interviews and conducted 65 online surveys with practitioners working on infrastructure, digital literacy, cybersecurity and policy advocacy initiatives.
We found that funding for these kinds of projects is minimal and difficult for community groups to access. But our research also unearthed important, under-discussed systemic barriers preventing progress towards Canada’s digital development goals.
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