The provincial government’s plans to improve high-speed Internet access in remote areas is not a frivolous gesture, but a timely and necessary step forward.
Most of us in urban areas take for granted high-speed Internet and Wi-Fi access — we tend to become conscious of the ease of our connectivity only on those infrequent occasions when service is disrupted.
But while we’re living on the information highway, there are people in the province who live at the end of a dirt road, figuratively and literally. Their access to the rest of the world is limited by distance and difficult geography.
The provincial government has taken steps to improve connectivity all over the province, including signing a 10-year agreement with Telus in 2011 to improve communications services in rural areas.
In addition, the B.C. Broadband Satellite Initiative aims to provide satellite broadband service to areas that would otherwise not have high-speed Internet. The government plans to spend up to $2 million over five years for that service, a paltry sum compared to the benefits it can bring.
This will help close the gap between rich and poor, urban and remote, that has widened greatly over the past decade or so.
While the world becomes ever more connected digitally, the remote areas of our province are left behind in so many ways. Providing reliable Internet access can go a long way toward bridging that gulf.
It means far more than casual entertainment and mindless messages on Facebook. The Internet has become the place where the world comes together. It can be the means for unlimited learning and enlightenment.
The value for education and training alone far outweighs the proposed $2-million expenditure.
People can take courses online that would otherwise not be available. They can interact with instructors and other students, regardless of distance. The Internet is their library, giving them almost instant access to textbooks and educational materials that a rural school library could not afford.
Many government services are already provided online, and better connectivity will spare residents in remote areas the expense and inconvenience of travelling to a larger centre to access those services.
Simply providing better Internet service does not magically make everyone’s life better. People need computers and other devices to receive the services — some public funding could be wisely used in that regard — and presenting opportunities doesn’t mean everyone will take advantage of them. Additional funding for public libraries, so they can expand free access to the Internet, would also help.
The disadvantages of distance can be greatly reduced, and possibilities greatly expanded, by improving access to the Web.
The province’s initiative also includes adding 1,700 kilometres of new cellular service along previously unconnected highways to aid public safety and upgrading 450 schools with fibre-optic cables, which will greatly increase Internet speed and capacity.
In the past, few questioned the necessity of providing postal service to remote areas. In the future, few will question the necessity of providing digital access for these areas.
It will go a long way toward bridging economic, geographic and cultural gaps.
© Copyright 2013