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Halifax Internet Town Hall Meeting Series:

Who is Shaping Your Digital Future?

The Digital Divide in Nova Scotia

Slides: [1]    [2]    [3]    [4]    [5]    [6]    [7]    [8]    [9]    [10]    [11]

[Slide 01 of 11]

Good evening. My name is Andrew D Wright and I'm with the Chebucto Community Net. For those of you who don't know about us, we're the oldest Internet Service Provider in Atlantic Canada and the second oldest community net in Canada, after Ottawa.

We are a community-run non-profit society, a registered charity here to help make sure everyone has access to the tools of communication. We're one of the bridges over the Digital Divide.



[Slide 02 of 11]

Here is a look at the Internet at its most basic. This is the Google home page, as seen with the Lynx text web browser. This is what the Internet looked like to people in 1994. No pictures, but they can be manually downloaded to your computer. No colors, no fancy layouts, just words.

We still offer this free service today. This is what free Internet looks like and here's the thing - 1994 tech or not - we're getting new accounts for this signing up. Some folks cannot afford any other home Internet access.



[Slide 03 of 11]

So here's some of the Digital Dividers, the things that stop people from accessing the Internet.

Money. We at Chebucto Community Net have found that when Internet costs exceed $10 per month, some people cannot afford it and are left out.

Knowledge. This is a problem that appears from a recent survey of our users to be directly proportional to age over 35. From one quarter of those 36-55 to one half of those over 70, people expressed a need for more information on how to use their computers and the Internet.

Fear of the unknown is basic and primal to us, it stops us in our tracks. This fear is stopping some people from being able to use what they've already got.

Finally, there's Time. When things take too long, interest lags. It's even getting to the point where some download servers time dialup users out, their server settings set to the demands of highspeed access.



[Slide 04 of 11]

Many seniors are stopped by a lack of knowledge. People on Social Assistance, disability, folks with a lower income, those with health issues and the unemployed are usually stopped by money.

Here's a hard truth. For many of us life isn't pretty. Health issues, money issues, and feeling cut off from everything can make for a pretty grim time of it. Home Internet access can be a life-line back to the world.



[Slide 05 of 11]

And here's some of their stories, fresh from the shores of the local Digital Divide.



[Slide 06 of 11]

So here's the question. Has the Internet now evolved into an essential human right here in the twenty-first century?

Well in Finland and some five other countries to date, the answer is yes. The communications tools offered by the Internet are an essential part of modern life. And not just access, but at a minimum speed of 1 Mb per second. In five years they want that speed to be 100 times that.

Here in Halifax, things are going in the other direction. A quarter of us have no home Internet access and 20% have no Internet access at all. The Province of Nova Scotia reports that some 6% of Nova Scotians have no physical access to highspeed Internet. We've slipped in the rankings amongst other Canadian cities as well.



[Slide 07 of 11]

Here's the situation around the world. Look at Japan. Their average Internet speed is 61 Mbps and the cost of a month of 1 Mbps access is 27 cents US. Over here in Canada, our average Internet speed is 7.6 Mbps and a month of 1 Mbps service is $6.50 US. We're mid-ranked amongst the top 20 nations for our Internet access.



[Slide 08 of 11]

And here's what that looks like. Canada is the green bar. Notice how we're a third-tier country for our access speed and how at 70 or so per cent availability of broadband access for our population how many other countries beat us. These are not numbers to be happy about.



[Slide 09 of 11]

And here's the local Halifax cost of bandwidth, updated as of January 24th, 2010. Eastlink and Bell Aliant prices are regular, non-discounted prices as posted on their websites and tax is not included in their prices.

The national average is in orange. Prices are in Canadian dollars. Notice how the less bandwidth you get, the higher its price. Also notice how the fastest access speed listed here is less than one quarter of the average access speed in Japan.



[Slide 10 of 11]

So here at Chebucto Community Net our best solution is to offer dialup for $125 a year and free text-based Internet to those who need it.

An interim solution for the local highspeed Digital Divide would be wireless access. We've been trying to do this now for years with no funding and virtually no public support. We've not given up and we're still working on bringing this access to locations in Halifax, particularly to areas with low income seniors housing. Without money and resources this is pretty hard slogging.

We figure that for around $400,000 we could bring low cost wireless highspeed Internet to mainland Halifax. This is the band-aid quick-fix solution to the problem but it's one that could be applied fairly quickly with enough public support.



[Slide 11 of 11]

Writer William Gibson said that the future is already here, it's just not very well distributed yet. Well this my friends is what the future looks like. This is a telephone pole in a residential neighborhood in Malaysia and this is fiber optic to the home. Broadband Internet is now defined as fiber optic to the premises. Cable and DSL Internet is no longer considered to be broadband.

Fiber optic cable is the essential infrastructure of the twenty-first century. Fiber optic cable is light streamed through strands of glass and by using different colors of light, many different channels of data can be transmitted over the same strand.

In our vision of the way this should go, all providers have equal access to the neighborhood fiber optic pod with no one provider controlling the access. Local networks peer together, which means very low bandwidth costs amongst the peers and faster, lower latency access.

Highspeed network traffic from North America to Europe passes through Halifax so we are perfectly situated to take maximum advantage of this. It's like the 1800s again when Nova Scotia prospered by being at the heart of the Atlantic shipping routes. Now it's pulses of light going back and forth across the ocean instead of trade goods.

Information loves fast network speeds and low latency and it's going to go where it can find them. Fiber optic cable installed now will still be used for access decades from now.

Give people this kind of access to this sort of information pipe and they will astonish you with the things they will think up to use it. Business, culture, education, all benefit dramatically with highspeed access. Ask the Valley Community Fibre Network:

They're doing this right now in the Annapolis Valley.

Highspeed access throughout the city and province will generate new businesses and industries and help us keep younger people from having to move away.

Public support is going to be essential to setting this future up. Leaving such important matters to blind market forces and happenstance is not going to be the best for us in the long run. We should be rolling out fiber optic cable everywhere we can, much as electricity lines were rolled out everywhere in the early twentieth century.

Some members of the public will need support to help them use technology and this should not be forgotten as well.

Make sure your local politician is aware of these issues. It's your voice that needs to be heard. Your voice, letting your representative know that you think this is important. Enough voices may be able to start things moving.

Thank you for your time, and good night.




Internet Town Hall Meeting information:

          Chebucto Community Net's Internet Town Hall site.

          October 26, 2009 at the Dalhousie Student Union Building


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