Digital Equity – End the Digital Divide
Imagine trying to run a business in a community where you couldn’t download an attachment off of an email. Imagine not having the internet speed to skype with a remote colleague or client, run a webinar or even relax at the end of the day and stream Netflix.
Well, that is the reality for 75 percent of First Nations communities in British Columbia. There are thousands of Indigenous people in rural and remote regions of the province who do not have equal or affordable access to broadband internet, which was ruled as a basic service for all Canadians by the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission in December of 2016.
This gap is what’s known as the digital divide. We are fighting for digital equity.
In our digital age, connectivity, digital access, and digital skill development opportunities are crucial. Two-thirds of new jobs need either high or medium level digital skills, according to a recent report from the Brookings Institute (“Digitalization and the American Workforce”). Meanwhile, a recent Al Jazeera documentary on the digital divide noted their importance to a broad range of socioeconomic indicators:
“Connecting communities can have a sizeable effect on complex issues like teenage suicide, mental health or cultural preservation. The internet allows for access to improved health services, cultural resources, higher education, a wider pool of jobs, and, for those who may feel isolated, a way to expand their social network.”
The impacts of the digital divide faced by First Nations communities will only continue to grow as the influence of technology continues to alter longstanding systems and structures. Upwards of 38% of the workforce is expected to be automated by 2030 (according to a recent PwC report), a trend which will disproportionately impact those who do not yet have equitable access to the foundational infrastructure of the digital age.
What has constrained Indigenous peoples in the digital age is not a lack of innovation - Indigenous peoples have been innovators upon these territories since time immemorial. Instead, what has limited us is full and equitable access, limiting perceptions as to how Indigenous voices and perspectives could enrich these spaces, and a power imbalance in regards to both platforms and the content that is housed upon them.
The time has come to meaningfully address the digital divide faced by Indigenous peoples in B.C., ensuring that Indigenous innovators have equitable access to the necessary tools for 21st century Nation building, cultural revitalization, and sustainable economic futures.