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Study conducted as COVID-19 pandemic forces Canadian society to shift online finds that funding for digital development projects are piecemeal, ad hoc and unorganized

October 1, 2020 – OTTAWA – As Canadian schools, non-profits, and community groups pivot to online services, the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) has released a landmark study detailing the funding shortfalls facing organizations that work to improve the quality of Canada’s internet. Based on 50 in-depth telephone interviews conducted in April and May, the study finds that resources are scarce for not-for-profits, charities and researchers working to connect Canadians to high-quality internet that is affordable and secure during a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated Canada’s digital divide.

Study participants argue that while ensuring all Canadians are digitally connected has never been more important, Canada’s “digital philanthropy” sector is ill-defined when compared to other well-developed philanthropic sectors such as the environment, poverty and public health. The research finds that funding for internet-related projects is limited, complicated, and difficult to access, which leads to competition for resources amongst groups who share the same goals. Study participants also fear that the COVID-19 pandemic will place new pressures on the small number of funders in this area, stretching already thin funding across other needs and priorities.

Full Report

Report Takeaways

  • Funding for internet-related projects is scarce both in terms of absolute dollars available for non-profits, charities and researchers, and in the breadth and depth of granting sources.
  • Funding is most needed for digital literacy, infrastructure and community leadership to support work that increases equity and skills, builds network infrastructure, and enables policy advocacy.
  • The larger philanthropic community that provides grants in other sectors such as health and education does not prioritize digital development work.
  • Funding is complicated and difficult to access, especially for not-for-profits and charities without the resources to hire specialists to assist in the application process.
  • These obstacles contribute to a policy advocacy stakeholder imbalance that favours industry participation over communities, civil society groups and non-profits.
  • COVID-19 is expected to make the situation worse by placing new financial pressures on the small number of existing funders in this area.

Examples of Digital Development Projects:

In June of this year, CIRA’s Community Investment Program announced funding for 20 projects. Past projects include:

  • Mamawapowin Community Network is expanding and maintaining an accessible wireless network that will reach every household in the community of Samson Cree First Nation in Central Alberta.
  • ACORN Canada has carried out groundbreaking research on digital equality for low-income Canadians, underlining the need for affordable internet as an essential service.
  • Actua developed an AI Education Handbook and curriculum, accessible learning tools on the basics of artificial intelligence created to help educators bring AI learning into classrooms across Canada.

Executive Quote

“Digital philanthropy is the most important charitable sector that people haven’t heard of, and it’s facing major challenges right now. The COVID-19 pandemic has made access to high-quality internet connectivity more urgent than ever before. Yet, despite this, our study found that resources for digital development projects are scarce and that competition amongst groups is intense. While our annual $1.25 million Community Investment Program granting initiative goes a long way towards supporting this work, the needs of the sector vastly outweigh what we alone can provide. We invite Canadians to review the findings of our report and join us in supporting digital development at such a crucial time.”

-David Fowler, CIRA’s vice president of marketing and communications

About CIRA's Community Investment Program

CIRA is building a trusted internet for Canadians through the Community Investment Program by funding charities, not-for-profits and research institutions that are helping improve Canada’s internet. CIRA is best known for our role managing the .CA domain on behalf of all Canadians. While this remains our primary mandate, as a member-based not-for-profit ourselves, we have a much broader goal to strengthen Canada's internet. The Community Investment Program is one of our most valuable contributions toward this goal and funds projects in infrastructure, digital literacy, cybersecurity and community leadership. Every .CA domain name registered or renewed contributes to this program. To date CIRA has contributed $7.95 million in Community Investment Program grants.

About the Canadian Internet Registration Authority

The Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) manages the .CA top-level domain on behalf of all Canadians. CIRA also develops technologies and cybersecurity services that help support its goal of building a trusted internet for Canadians. The CIRA team operates one of the fastest-growing country code top-level domains (ccTLD), a high-performance global DNS network, and one of the world’s most advanced back-end registry solutions.