Principles of supporting marginalized and poorly supported communities. These communities… :

The idea of the “digital divide” refers to the growing gap between the underprivileged members of society, especially the poor, rural, elderly, and handicapped portion of the population who do not have access to computers or the internet; and the wealthy, middle-class, and young Americans living in urban and suburban areas who have access.

Mathew Effect – those having access to digital resources benefit more from them, while those lacking resources fall further behind, leading to the continuance of the digital divide.

Digital Divide challenges approaching 2020.

  • Need to swap out of technology, technology obsolescence and technology creep in two-year cycles.
  • Mobile platforms and costs.
  • Need for and cost of bandwidth
  • Stability of bandwidth, community resources, etc.
  • Conversion from desktop, to laptop to mobile platforms.

Stories in reverse order
1. FCC 2016 Broadband Progress Report

The US government Federal Communications Commission is required by its Act to report annually on whether advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion. There are requirements for the Commission to act where these services are not being provided.

FCC’s 2016 report indicates that 10% of all Americans lack access to 25/3 Mbsp (upload/download) speeds and that 39% of rural Americans lack this access. This indicates a disproportionation where rural people are disadvantaged, compared to urban residents, with respect to broadband access. The FCC website provides a series of composite interactive maps (https://www.fcc.gov/reports-research/maps/) which indicate where broadband access does not exist. Also, these maps also indicate clearly the locations of tribal lands and whether or not they have broadband service. FCC indicates in this report that 71% of Tribal lands have broadband.

A map cut-out (above) shows yellow where the FCC broadband requirement is found and teal/blue where the minimum 25/3 Mbps download/upload standard is not met. A large swath in the middle of the map (MN, IA, WI, MO, IL) covers a large segment of the US mid west states, indicating clearly the presence of these services. On the other hand there are also even larger segments on either side of that region which have lesser services.

A spreadsheet on which these maps are derived show a county by county approach to broadband access and other matters such as population density and average income. Over 3000 counties and county-equivalents are found in that spreadsheet.  

2. Broadband Audit 2007 (Canada)

This audit by Industry Canada reported on the Broadband Rural and Northern Development Pilot Program which provided in the final Phase II allocation, some $80 million to 63 projects. The timeline of these projects was from 2002 to 2007.

The point in raising this program is to demonstrate the timeline of this investment and the scale of the investment.

3. K-Net

One of the projects which were supported in under Broadband Pilot (identified above) was K-Net, which is a First Nations owned and operated ICT Service Provider. K-Net which operates out of Sioux Lookout, Ontario and has as its client base the First Nations in the NW Ontario.  

K-Net operates under the auspices of its tribal council Keewaytinook Okimakanak (KO) and operates a service desk, provides computer networking support, provides staff training. Some of these services use uplinks to satellites and then are both wireless and hard wired on the ground. Mobile services via a 3G network are also in their region. The following image indicates the communities that K-Net serves (green dots) and an adjacent community owned network – Tbaytel.

4. How to Give Rural America Broadband

Providing broadband to rural areas is a slow process. The same challenges that arose during the US rural electrification come up again, almost 100 years later. Distances, sparse populations and non-economic environments. NY Times in this linked story provides a background where a small Oklahoma community of 120 residents finally received these services with the financial support of the FCC (identified elsewhere in this blog). While electricity transformed rural life, the same effect will now be found with broadband availability in the schools, civic offices, businesses and residents’ homes in this region. This time the infrastructure will not be as deep to install, because they are hanging the fibre optic cable from the utility poles that deliver electricity to the region.  

Clinton Creason beneath the fiber line that delivers high-speed internet to his home in Zena, Okla.

5. Progress on Rural Broadband FCC 16-6A2

The FCC provides a very granular look at the Digital Divide found in the United States, via a county by county presentation. Almost 3300 US Counties are identified, their population and other census statistics.  

This 2016 survey shows that almost 40% of rural America (over 23 million people) do not have broadband access at the 25/3 Mbps standard. An urban population without this access, most surprisingly can be identified, and comprises 4% of the population, or 10.5 million people.

FCC seeks to accelerate broadband access, to all Americans, by identifying potential obstacles to deployment, competition and adoption. They indicate the need for both private and public sectors to mobilize to cover these underserved regions.

6. Rural Broadband funded for Canada

The genesis of Canada’s approach took around the turn of the century when it was obvious significant rural regions did not have broadband service. A National Broadband Taskforce and other sources reported that 79% of rural and remote communities did not have broadband services. A rural divide was indicated!

Commercial service providers on the other hand by this time had made almost complete market penetration of these services to the urban areas.

The cost of providing necessary broadband services to these unserved rural/remote areas was indicated to be $1.3 billion. What followed after that time and which was repeated a number of times going forward, was to establish a fiscal plan (i.e. federal government affordability) to support some level of development by providing rural networks and other service providers with the needed resources. This was pursued over several stages and many years (i.e. 2001 to today!).

Firstly, the Broadband Rural and Northern Development Pilot Program invested $105 million from 2002 to 2007 to reach out to some distant communities. Technologies deployed here included wireless to link residences and buildings as well as using satellites to transfer the signals from remote locations to an access point on the ground.  This program’s objective was to reduce the number of broadband un-serviced communities from 4,000 to 2,000 communities

The funding levels provided at each stage were considerably less than the cost first indicated.  Early and less expensive targets which resulted in higher impacts were initially pursued in the Broadband Canada Program which concluded in 2012. This program invested $225M over the 2010-2012 timeline.  

Most recently under the Economic Action Plan (circa 2014) some $305 million will be invested to provide access to an additional 280,000 households and businesses. Many of these new connections will in Indigenous communities.

While these three mentions of staged federal programs do not add up to $1.3B, other programs were called upon throughout this time to provide support including FedNor and the CANARIE Network.

7. Ring of Fire

NW Ontario is going through a phase and is transitioning from a forestry denominated region to having more emphasis on mining. One of these mining projects offers chromium, while others are offering base and precious metal opportunities. Elsewhere in the region, diamonds have also been indicated. To develop these remote locations, both roads and internet connections will be needed. Each piece of infrastructure will be built in turn. A timeline was recently established for the road development.  Internet services will also be brought into the region via fibre-optic cable at a cost of $67 million.  Fibre will not only be brought to the mine site but will also link five Indigenous communities in the region – from where coincidentally the labour force is recruited. The economics are interesting at this point with the cost of internet services and building of road access estimated to be about $1 billion. All of this is indicated to be in governmental support. The mineral deposits in the region are on the other hand estimated to be about $60 billion.

8. Xplornet

Little has been indicated in Canada what the upload and download speeds should be. We find more or less a statement on what is available and what level of service is provided. But Xplornet seems to be reading the signs, likely from the FCC (US) materials. This organization is promoting its technology and services to deliver 25 Mbps Broadband internet to all of rural Canada. Added to this package of services that it has been delivering is a “Cord Cutting” program where television services are delivered via internet, in a non-bundled format.  

9. Problems in Piney/Vita SE Manitoba (lack of Rural infrastructure)

The SE corner of Manitoba does not have a robust telecommunications infrastructure. Residents are highly dispersed in this rural region and use satellite dishes or cable services to get their TV services. Telephone services are provided via POTS*. No cellular services are available.

The consequences of not having good telecommunications infrastructure in rural areas such as this becomes evident via in the fire season or local emergencies.

This area has a mixed forest which sits on a sandy lands region. When spring/summer rains are insufficient, then the Forest Fire Danger Rating quickly rises to high or extreme. Forest Fires inevitably follow and these seem happen regularly. While in some of Canada’s northern regions, these forest fires are allowed to burn themselves out, this cannot be allowed to happen in SE Manitoba. People live throughout the region in rural villages, isolated houses as well as farms. To some extent cattle and hog production is also found.   

Rural fire services and dispatch in this area is done via volunteers. With no cellular network being able to direct these volunteers, the mustering and directing of these resources problematic. Once volunteers are dispatched they cannot be recalled or advised further as they are out of communication range.

A video is provided of one recent instance where the rural volunteer has been dispatched with insufficient equipment to blockade a bridge.

In this case the bridge had already burnt down, but two vehicles managed to drive through the smoke and crash into the gully which the bridge spanned. Fortunately, SE Manitoba is a flatland and the vehicles only dropped a few feet, with no injuries.

. s_  is not able to get to fire sites and close roads quickly enough to prevent

This are often gets forest fires and volunteers are dispatched with limited ability to redirect or bring in additional resources until too late.

The recent federal announcement to add

 * POTS  – Plain Old Telephone Service. This service uses twisted pair copper wires to transmit voice calls to a central switching system.   

Things to find:

Before storm: February 17, 2015 plans to provide broadband services to 99% of households having access to 10 Mbps download speeds and 70% of households having connection to 1 Gbps download speeds

Puerto Rico Broadband Taskforce (PRBT), a non-partisan, public- private partnership created to help close the digital divide across Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico broadband issues – storm

Pacific island broadband issues – storm

 

Ic press release 2015 broadband policy going forward. Investments

Piney problems

2008 Travel restrictions. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/travel-restrictions-reviewed-in-wake-of-piney-forest-fire-1.721743

Previous year had a fire as well.

Fire in May 2012

https://steinbachonline.com/local/piney-declares-state-of-emergency

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