June 13, 2018, OTTAWA - Today, the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) released The gap between us: Perspectives on building a better online Canada , which captures the experiences, opinions and proposed solutions of 70 grassroots organizations across Canada working to make the internet better for Canadians. These organizations, working on the frontlines of Canada's internet, share a narrative of haves and have-nots, including Canadians who lack the ability to get online or the skills to do so safely and effectively, as well as the organizations who serve them. Gaps and solutions are highlighted in internet infrastructure, access, digital literacy and funding.
Participants of this report provided the following insight:
- Lack of competition and funding affects internet infrastructure expansion. Where infrastructure is in place, imbalances in quality often remain, particularly in rural and remote communities.
- Market forces drive infrastructure investment.
- Remote communities and small ISPs often bear the costs of first-mile connectivity.
- Home internet access provides a richer online experience than for those who access the internet in a public space.
- For low-income families, low-cost internet options are often still too expensive and the quality, speed and size of data packages are insufficient.
- There are inequities in access in both rural and urban communities.
- Seniors, new Canadians, Indigenous peoples and others are being digitally left behind, causing isolation and making it harder for them to access opportunities and services online.
- Learning the fundamentals of using the internet is a gap that exists, but with little attention or funding devoted to it.
- Lack of digital literacy in Canada increases vulnerability to cyber threats such as malware, phishing scams and the influence of "fake news."
- Funding parameters for internet projects are often complex or too precise, and the application process can be cumbersome.
- There is intense competition for a small pool of funding and trendy digital issues get more attention and funding than those with less visibility do.
- A lack of consistency in funding, along with short timelines for using it, impact project effectiveness.
The report includes 10 recommended solutions, gleaned from participants via a survey and follow-up interviews conducted in February and March 2018.
Executive and partner quotes
"Canada's internet is imperfect and CIRA's report highlights areas of need, as experienced by grassroots, Canadian organizations," said Byron Holland, president and CEO of CIRA. "The internet is a connector, literally through its pipes, but also by connecting people with opportunities. We need to do better and work together to ensure these opportunities exist for all Canadians."
"CIRA's report points to local innovation and ownership as a viable solution to internet access. Small organizations and community groups are bringing the internet to remote parts of Canada. The ideas, ambition and ability is all there, but local groups need support to get their projects off the ground," said Rob McMahon, assistant professor of communications and community engagement with the University of Alberta. He is also a co-founder of First Mile Connectivity Consortium, a national non-profit association of Indigenous technology organizations.
"Rural communities in Canada are a struggling with internet access, and unfortunately urban communities face access inequities as well. In Vancouver, there are people who can't afford home internet access or don't have the devices or ability to connect at all. It's great to be able to talk about Canada's internet. Shining a light on challenges is an important first step toward real solutions," said Tracey Axelsson, executive director of the Vancouver Community Network, a not-for-profit ISP in Vancouver.
CIRA's report, The gap between us: Perspectives on building a better online Canada, can be accessed at cira.ca/gaps.
CIRA contributes to building a better online Canada through its Community Investment Program, which has provided $5.45 million in funding to date CIRA's latest round of grant recipients were announced on June 11th . The following are two examples of recipient projects closing the gaps outlined in CIRA's report:
Using research and training to address the problems in low-income communities.
This project will connect policymakers with the lived experience of low-income communities who face barriers to accessing the digital economy. It will provide excellent leadership development training on the critical issue of internet accessibility to amplify the voice of marginalized community members, empowering them to increase access to the digital economy within their communities and beyond.
Helping older adults use technology so they can lead healthy, connected lives.
The Digital Coach Network will turn volunteers and staff at partner organizations into Digital Coaches by building their digital skills and confidence. Through structured training, ongoing support and mentorship this program will empower and inspire people to pass on their online skills to help seniors get the basic digital skills they need to be active members of society.
The Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) manages the .CA top-level domain on behalf of all Canadians. A Member-based organization, CIRA also develops and implements policies that support Canada's Internet community, and represents the .CA registry internationally.