With Alberta cancelling classes for the remainder of the school year, on March 15; a set of instructions were provided to teachers and students alike.
It was clear from these instructions that communication between these two was expected to be maintained and that academic work would continue to be part of the process. So, the teachers and students both went home with homework, but how would they be accomplishing this?
This element was left open for all to consider. Students could access instructions and content online or through other means such as course packages and telephone check-ins, but as one can imagine, the earlier grades (K-5 ) are less technologically focused than later years (6-12).
Cybera recognized that it played a changing role here. They are a not for profit, publicly funded, ultra-high-speed network that moves data between Alberta’s educational institutions, researchers, entrepreneurs, and provincial, national and international research networks.
After some deliberation they published a white paper, noting that the earlier telecommunication data flow which they had supported, was now offloaded to private internet plans related to residential networks. Some of this traffic was moved off to ISP’s (Internet Service Providers) who are noting a 30% to 60% increase in data traffic since the schools shut down.
But this does not mean that the transfer had taken place seamlessly.
Rural Albertans, about 16.5% of the population, may not be able to benefit from the data cap suspensions that were offered to the urban communities through their service providers at that time. In fact, while urban residents will be accessing broadband connections through their Wi-Fi, their rural cousins may be dealing only with cell phone data charges.
The Digital Divide appears here in that “the last mile*” is very difficult or expensive to accomplish in many instances. This is because of the distances between residences in rural communities and the trunk lines that serve them is very high, and the costs of installing these services to each home is also high.
Instead, students who are staying home and working through their homework assignments may need to use cell data plans. This likely accomplished by tethering their laptop to their cell phone and transmitting or requesting requests for information to and from the web from the laptop’s keyboard. This comes with a price, as data plans are metered, and as we all know, once you have hit your data cap, overage charges start to appear. These are not cheap.
Cybera recommends targeted funding to improving the last mile connectivity in underserved areas. Secondly, they recommend suspensions of data caps for these vulnerable rural locations. Thirdly, Cybera recommends investment in their Supernet to provide last mile solutions as well as providing public institutions with fibre optic connections.
Lastly, a recommendation is made in the long term that Alberta develop a broadband strategy to provide home internet connections to the final 16% of their population that currently do not have internet service. This last recommendation is rather fantastic as you can imagine how tied we urbanites are to our internet connection.
Cybera is a clear proponent of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission ’s (CRTC) universal service objective target of 50Mpbs download and 10Mbps upload.
We wish Alberta’s 900,000+ students and teachers a safe and healthy stay-home period and the best of success with their studies.