Internet has become a lifeline, not everyone has equal access

Canadians have effectively moved online for foreseeable future. We’re working, shopping, watching, entertaining and communicating through our Internet connections. It will be the Internet that will likely get us through social distancing and self-isolation, if the connection is reliable.  

“The internet right now is a real lifeline right now for folks,” says Josh Tabish, the Corporate Communications Manager at the Canadian Internet Registration Authority. “I think everyone is feeling the effects of not being able to see their friends and family.”  

The Internet is making the world feel a little less lonely, while our government officials urge us to stay home as much as we can. It’s the epicentre of our jobs, our economy and our livelihoods. But those living in areas without working infrastructure risk being left behind.  

In 2017, the federal government reported only 24 per cent of Indigenous communities had access to 50/10 megabits per second. You need 50 if you want to download a large file, something we may see a lot of people try to do over the next few weeks while they try to set up their work from home stations. Likewise, only 37 per cent of rural homes reported having access to 50/10  megabits per second. That number jumped to 97 per cent in urban settings. 

There’s gaps in their networks,” Tabish says about the internet infrastructure in many Indigenous, rural and remote communities. He says many of the large telecom providers have plans in place to expand their coverage into underserved areas. “I think that anything they can do to expediate that process will be extremely beneficial.”  

The Internet is under federal jurisdiction. Tabish says Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Navdeep Bains could call on the telecom providers to create emergency services for areas without infrastructure or to implement more leniency when it comes to overage fees.  

With Canadians facing weeks of teleworking, Tabish says municipal and provincial leaders should also start looking at how they can make sure their constituents have access to a working wireless infrastructure. 

Many people may be realizing their set ups at homes, won’t work with multiple family members and devices all hooked up to the same modem.  

“With everyone scrambling to rearrange every part of daily life, and every part of our economy, it’s really important the performance of our internet does not get missed in that discussion,” Tabish says.  

The Canadian Internet Registration Authority has a tool called the Internet Performance Test. Anyone can use it from home to test their internet connection. He says having that information will be helpful for those who need to go to their leaders for more support.  

He says you should pay close attention to how everything is performing. Are videos lagging? Can everyone connect to your modem at the same time? 

There have also been questions about whether our infrastructure can support all the binge-watching with people turning to their Netflix, Prime and Crave accounts to pass the time. Reports out of Europe say streaming giants are moving away from HD to support the large numbers of people working from home. 

Tabish says Canadians will still be able to watch Friends in HD. Infrastructure problems in Europe come down to older buildings, but he says our system can handle more. “Stream away.” 

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