Report: Digital Technology Adoption in Northern and Remote Indigenous Communities in Canada

This report prepared by the FMCC team for Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) addresses research on digital technology adoption in remote and northern First Nation and Inuit communities. It summarizes the major elements of our project, including the literature review, identification of primary and secondary data sources, methodologies, strategies and research questions, and recommendations from our research. It includes six comprehensive appendices that are linked to the appropriate report sections and are available online.

Suggested Reference to the report:

Beaton, B., McMahon, R., O’Donnell, S., Hudson, H., Whiteduck, T. & Williams, D. (2016). Digital Technology Adoption in Northern and Remote Indigenous Communities. Prepared for Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. First Mile Connectivity Consortium. March.

From the main report …

Key research findings identified in the pilot studies and the consultation with Inuit organizations as well as in the literature review include:

  • Indigenous residents in northern communities are using digital technologies for a wide range of personal and organizational purposes, including contact with family and friends through social networking, email, online banking and bill paying, online shopping, payroll and other administrative services, access to online government services, submitting proposals and reports, and education – both in-school and distance education.
  • Tablets and smartphones are increasingly popular for personal Internet access, with smartphone access via Wi-Fi when mobile data service is not available locally.
  • Communities have websites, but Facebook is the most popular means of online information sharing by individuals and local organizations, including job postings and local news.
  • Some innovative applications include local online buy-and-sell, online fundraising, and software for learning Indigenous languages.
  • Residents generally learn to use digital technologies on their own, from coworkers and family members. However, local training is required to help some residents develop basic digital literacies and assist others in applications such as e-commerce and online marketing for local entrepreneurship and local content development.
  • Affordability remains a major constraint with numerous participants stating that surcharges for exceeding usage caps made it difficult to take full advantage of Internet access. Basic monthly subscription charges are beyond the means of low income households.
  • Community access to the Internet including public Wi-Fi hot-spots is sometimes made available at band offices and community centres. Limited staffing limits public access for residents at schools or school-operated libraries in some communities.
  • Quality of service (QoS) poses major constraints where local terrestrial and satellite networks do not have sufficient bandwidth and reliability for applications such as videoconferencing for telehealth and professional development for teachers and online videos or webinars in schools for continuing education and classroom instruction.
  • In many cases remote and rural communities are left without mobile services because their isolation and small populations are seen as not having a business case by the incumbent telcos; however alternative mobile services (such as Keewaytinook Mobile and Ice Wireless) have been successful in these environments.
  • Regional broadband networks using legacy microwave and satellite equipment lack the transport capacity or cost too much (for example, the high cost of satellite bandwidth) to support increased data usage in these communities.
  • Aging digital technologies and networks require ongoing maintenance and upgrades to provide the bandwidth and quality of service that northern communities require.
  • Regional fixed network incumbent providers often upgrade their facilities only if communities can help raise the funds required or if other subsidies are available to complete construction projects.


This project included an extensive literature review, an identification of primary and secondary data sources, two completed pilot studies conducted using telecommunications, and a plan for conducting an in-person pilot study in the coming months. Based on this work, we present recommendations in two parts: 1) conducting research: methods and approaches, and 2) addressing constraints and barriers to digital technology adoption. These are listed below and discussed in detail in the recommendations section of the report.

1 Conducting research on digital technology adoption in remote and northern Indigenous communities

1.1 More research is needed: data and information about digital technology adoption in northern and remote Indigenous communities is significantly limited compared to that from other communities in Canada.

1.2 Plan the research to represent and distinguish among Inuit, First Nation, and Métis nations and communities. Given that the current project conducted pilot studies with First Nations, we recommend working with an Inuit community for the next phase of the project.

1.3 Respect and follow the appropriate research ethics and data governance protocols.

1.4 Partner with regional Indigenous organizations that can act as intermediaries between researchers and involved Indigenous communities.

1.5 Develop a strong working relationship with each unique Indigenous community involved in the research.

1.6 Online or virtual research conducted remotely can be appropriate and cost-effective under the conditions outlined in the previous recommendations.

1.7 Research projects on this topic should use an appropriate mix of three methodological approaches: 1) online or virtual research conducted remotely by trained researchers; 2) in-person research with visiting researchers, and 3) capacity-building to train and support local community researchers.

1.8 Research projects on this topic should use the three-level analytical approach to develop their research instruments and data analysis.

2 Addressing constraints and barriers to digital technology adoption in these communities

2.1 Review existing mechanisms for funding digital network infrastructure development in remote and northern regions and assess the resulting costs and benefits to Indigenous communities.

2.2 Support approaches for developing digital infrastructure in northern and remote regions that ensure equity, adaptability, accessibility, affordability and sustainability.

2.3 Support the regional community intermediary organizations that provide technical expertise with the resources required to upgrade, operate and maintain the digital infrastructure in remote and northern Indigenous communities.

2.4 Ensure every Indigenous community has local technical support available.

2.5 Recognize the need for training, skills development and capacity-building in the community, at all levels from residents interested in skills and applications for use at home and work to community technicians.

2.6 Support local and regional efforts to produce digital content in Indigenous languages.