Halifax Internet Town Hall
Shaping Your Digital Future!
The Digital Divide in Nova Scotia
Presented in Spryfield, N.S. 10 March 2010.
Good evening. Welcome to the first in what we hope will be a series of
Internet Town Hall meetings we plan on holding in various communities
around Halifax Regional Municipality over the next few months.
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.
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
So here's some of the Digital Dividers, the things that stop people from
accessing the Internet.
Finally, there's Time. Who and where you are affects what kind of
access is available to you. When everything online takes too long,
We've found that when Internet exceeds $10 per month, it stops being
affordable to some people.
That's the bottom line in all of this: there
has to be an Internet access costing not more than $10 per month or some
folks will be left out.
People on Social Assistance, disability, lower
income in general, those with illness and health issues, the unemployed
and those people on pensions all have tight budgets.
From a survey of our users it is apparent there is a clear link between
age and a need for more Internet skills. From a quarter of those 36-55
years old to half of those 70 and above, there are a lot of people who
need some help crossing the Digital Divide.
Now bear in mind, these are the people who already have the necessary
skills to get online and answer an online survey. The actual numbers are
going to be worse than this.
The Province of Nova Scotia divided up the province into three sections
and tasked three companies with bringing a highspeed wireless service to
all the rural areas not presently being served.
The program is behind schedule with some 6% of the people in the province
having no highspeed access at all. The price of the access is in the $50
per month range which of course leaves out anyone not able to afford such
prices. The speeds are a maximum of 3.0 Mbps on the top tier wireless
plan, which is pretty slow, being less than half the current Canadian
national average speed, which itself is not very fast. There is no
educational component to this program to help new Internet users.
Here's an unpleasant truth. For many of us life isn't pretty, it's just
plain hard. 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.
This kind of thing can happen to any of us. Major illness can cripple
financially as well as physically. Poverty sets the conditions for
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 a handful of other countries, 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.
France, Spain, Greece and Estonia have each brought in their own laws and
this list of countries is no doubt going to be added to as time goes by.
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.
We've slipped in the rankings amongst other Canadian cities as well.
Monday, March 8th the BBC World Service announced the results of a survey
they conducted involving more than 27,000 people in 26 countries, asking
the question, is Internet access a fundamental human right?
The answer was resounding. Eight out of ten people said yes, it was. Nine
out of ten with Internet access said it was.
Even if you have money, the picture doesn't get any better. 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, the Finland human right
standard, 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.
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.
And here's the local Halifax cost of bandwidth, updated as of March 10th,
2010. OmniGlobe is the commercial provider tasked by the Nova Scotia
government with bringing wireless access to rural Halifax county.
Eastlink, OmniGlobe and Bell Aliant prices are regular, non-discounted
prices as posted on their websites and tax is not included in their prices
so you would actually pay more than these listed prices in real life.
There is no tax due on the Chebucto Plus membership fee.
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.
In Dial-Up Internet, it would take twenty simultaneous connections to give
1 Mbps per month. On our Chebucto Plus service twenty connections would
cost $208 a month while the comparable Bell Aliant plan would cost $579 a
month to do the same thing at nearly triple the price.
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.
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
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.
Thank you for your time, and good night.
Internet Town Hall Meeting
Chebucto Community Net's Internet Town Hall
October 26, 2009 at the Dalhousie
Student Union Building
Our community is online here!