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Halifax Internet Town Hall Meeting Series:

Shaping Your Digital Future!

The Digital Divide in Nova Scotia

Presented in Spryfield, N.S. 10 March 2010.

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

[10]    [11]    [12]    [13]    [14]    [15]    [16]    [17]   

[Slide 01 of 17]

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.



[Slide 02 of 17]

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 03 of 17]

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 04 of 17]

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, interest lags.



[Slide 05 of 17]

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.



[Slide 06 of 17]

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.



[Slide 07 of 17]

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.



[Slide 08 of 17]

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 poverty.



[Slide 09 of 17]

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.



[Slide 10 of 17]

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.



[Slide 11 of 17]

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.



[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 13 of 17]

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.



[Slide 14 of 17]

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 15 of 17]

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.



[Slide 16 of 17]

There is not a great deal of public awareness of just how bad the situation has gotten with regards to the Digital Divide in Nova Scotia.

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

Find their contact information here:

Halifax Regional Municipality Councillors

Members of the Nova Scotia Legislative Assembly

Members of Parliament



[Slide 17 of 17]

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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