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Federal Boost for Canadian Internet Users

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 06 February 2001 00:00

Last week, as Canadians prepared to celebrate national Toque Tuesday (February 6) in a united effort to find solutions for Canada's homeless, the federal government once more proclaimed its intention to bring Canadians and their communities together electronically.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien, in his official response to the Throne Speech at the opening of Parliament, stressed the government's commitment "to work with the private sector to determine the best ways to make broadband Internet access available to all communities in Canada by the year 2004."

Canadians are already logging onto the Internet in growing numbers. A recent Statistics Canada report states that 48.8 percent of Canadian households had at least one member using the Internet from some location (home, work or school) in 1999. This increase was largely driven by the remarkable jump to 28.7 percent of households using the Internet from home, up from 16 percent in 1997. Regular Internet home use is now a daily activity in almost one in five Canadian households, double the rate in 1997.

However, the overwhelming majority of Canadians have slower access to the Internet over regular telephone lines and only 12 percent of households have cable or high-speed access.

Broadband access, to the Internet, which refers to the capacity required for high-speed delivery of more advanced and faster services, is a key determinant of future development for remote, rural and urban communities.

"Canada has always faced the challenge of connecting all the citizens in its vast territory," said Minister Brian Tobin, Federal Minister of Industry. "We must ensure that all Canadian communities, no matter where they are, can reap the benefits of broadband Internet services. Access to high-speed broadband will provide the foundation for improved services such as distance learning and tele-health, and will foster both regional and local economic development."

The newly-formed, arms-length National Broadband Task Force will advise the federal government on how to best make high-speed broadband Internet services available to all Canadian communities by 2004. The task force, which will present its findings this spring, includes members from every region of Canada who represent industry stakeholders, digital content producers, rural communities and aboriginal groups, as well as users in the education, library and health communities.

The task force will identify and advise on:

  • Communities that may not gain access to private-sector-delivered, high-speed services by 2004 without government involvement

  • Technical, institutional and financial barriers which could delay the delivery of such services by the private sector

  • Roles governments might play in overcoming these barriers [bullet] Companies and other organizations that may deliver services in disadvantaged communities.

The federal government will continue to support existing programs, such as the Community Access Program, SchoolNet and LibraryNet, which ensure that Canadians have access to computers in their communities, schools and libraries.

This may be a good time to stay at least a step ahead of the government.

Connecting homes across Canada should primarily benefit Canadians, not corporations and governments. Homeowners who examine the needs of their neighbourhood and their community before the government has decided on a course of action may ensure taxpayer money is spent wisely and well when the government initiates partnerships with the private sector.

Interestingly, although Statistics Canada reports that in 1999 Internet use was lower for those over age 65 -- contrary to other observations -- figures showed that penetration was increasing for all age groups and family types. This cross-cultural, intergenerational mix dictates that a wide range of interests should be served by the emerging Canadian Internet community. Since it is generally Canadians with higher incomes and higher levels of education who predominate on the Internet, the consumer voice should be a powerful one.

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PJ Wade

Futurist and Achievement Strategist PJ WADE is “The Catalyst”—intent on Challenging The Best to Become Even Better. A dynamic speaker and author of 8 books and more than 1800 published articles, PJ concentrates on the knowledge, insight, communication prowess, and special decision-making skills essential for professionals and their clients who are determined to thrive in the 21st-Century vortex of change.

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