161. The Digital Divide
By Andrew D. Wright
There are several Digital Divides, gaps between the access to the Internet
that some people have and the lack of access available to others.
In Nova Scotia the Department of Economic and Rural Development reports
that more than 6% of Nova Scotians have no physical access to broadband
There is the lack of access from poverty. Broadband prices tend to be
around $50 per month. The Chebucto Community Net reports that when the
price of Internet exceeds $10 per month, it becomes too expensive for some
Another Digital Divider is information. According to a user survey
conducted by Chebucto Community Net, there is a direct relationship
between age over 35 and lack of knowledge on how to use computers and the
Internet. Half of people over 70 reported the need to know more about how
to use the technology. A quarter of people 36-55 needed to know more.
Finally there is the Digital Divider of speed of access. At the time of
this writing the fastest available home Internet in Halifax is 15
mb/second, which is about twice the Canadian national average speed of 7.6
Meanwhile in Asia, average speeds are more than quadruple the fastest
local access speeds. In Japan the average Internet speed is 61 mb/second.
Nova Scotia and Canada were early Internet adopters and once led the world
in network access. Since then we've fallen behind.
In Finland, and as of this month Spain, it has been declared a right to
have at least 1 mb/second access speed. It is felt by those governments
that this issue is simply too important to leave in the hands of market
Internet access brings with it unlimited educational resources,
communication with the world, government services, news, entertainment,
the opportunity to publicize local issues and increase the economic
activity of an area.
The current government solution to provide broadband Internet access to
rural Nova Scotia is by dividing the province into regions and paying
commercial companies to bring wireless access to these areas. At the time
of this writing the project is moving ahead but is behind schedule. This
program does not address economic or knowledge barriers to access.
The other government solution is the Community Access Program, or CAP. CAP
provides free public access terminals for general use. Its disadvantages
are the limited number of tasks it is possible to do using the restricted
software of the public computers and that CAP sites are in public
buildings with limited open hours. Sessions range from half an hour to an
hour and popular CAP locations may have lineups to use the computers. At
the time of this writing federal funding of the CAP program is scheduled
to end March 2010.
The Chebucto Community Net has been working for years to provide
non-profit community-run free and affordable home access to the Internet.
Unfortunately dialup access is becoming too slow to fully take advantage
of some Internet resources and many lower income people do not have the
required landline phone service to use it.
The real answer to the Digital Divide is to take a page from Asia and
start large-scale rolling out of fibre-optic cable. Essentially strands of
glass that can carry data in the form of light, fibre-optic cable is
pricey to put in but very cheap to manage and operate. It can carry
Internet access at a very high speed. The future is fibre to the home.
Talks are currently underway to form a consortium of providers to bring
fibre-optic cable to neighbourhood pods. The idea is that no one provider
would control the network but all providers could provide access from the
neighbourhood pod to the home.
The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community
Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about
computing, email email@example.com or
click here. If we use your question
in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.
Originally published 4 December 2009