Internet access to remote areas an important step for Canadians

From http://medicinehatnews.com/commentary/opinions/2016/12/24/internet-access-to-remote-areas-an-important-step-for-canadians/

Internet access to remote areas an important step for Canadians

BY MEDICINE HAT NEWS OPINON ON DECEMBER 24, 2016.

Seven First Nation youth died in Thunder Bay, Ont., between 2000 and 2011. These youth had spent their earliest years in remote First Nation communities — accessible by long winding gravel roads, or small aircraft, boats in the summer, or ice roads during winter.

And many without high school.

Which means to do the right thing, and complete their education, these students and any others end up moving often hundreds of kilometres to Thunder Bay.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) on Wednesday ruled that broadband internet with at least 50 megabits per second of download speed, and 10 mps upload be considered a “basic telecom service.” All customers, it was said, should have unlimited data options. And over a five-year span, $750-million drawn from telecom industry revenue will be required towards upgrading broadband service to these remote regions.

It’s a lofty goal, but it’s needed. That is how vital and intertwined the internet has become over the past decade.

Take the simple act of job hunting. Nowadays plenty of job listings are posted online only, and require applications to be sent electronically. Minimal access to the internet means being cut off from a whole segment of the job market. And while there are community hubs like the library where people can access high-speed internet, many remote and rural communities don’t have that option.

Paying bills, filing taxes, telecommuting for employment, online shopping, communicating with family and friends, following the news in the hometown you moved away from, reading through each political party’s election platform, getting news from around the world in an instant, emergency updates when natural disasters hit. Watching humanity’s great achievements like Chris Hadfield orbit the earth in the International Space Station, the Olympics, digitally touring the wonders of the world.

The internet was vital to the Arab Spring. It’s given the world first-hand knowledge and visuals of what’s happening in places like Aleppo. It means that people who once were invisible now have the chance to be heard.

And access to the internet means better access to education.

A coroner’s inquest that ran from 2015 into this year over the death of the youth in Thunder Bay included testimony from hundreds of witnesses, with the jury issuing 145 recommendations — they were mainly about improving the services at the central schools.

But what if those students didn’t even have to leave their families and close-knit communities, to go live in a strange city to complete their education? Understandably, that’s what any parent would prefer.

It’s easy to glibly dismiss the idea of the internet being vital — but in cases like this, broadband infrastructure could make a world of a difference. Combined with human ingenuity, it could mean the chance for students to remain in their own communities while completing their studies. It means even the chance for adults in these communities to upgrade and achieve and learn.

It isn’t a panacea for the challenges these remote communities face, for funding gaps, the ongoing impact of residential schools and so much more. But it’s a step in the right direction.

(Peggy Revell is a News reporter. To comment on this and other editorials, go to http://www.medicinehatnews.com/opinions.)