Digital connections for all British Columbians

Sep 1, 2020 | Blog, Governance, Technology | 3 comments

Just as roads with power and telephone lines strung down the side were transformative for people and communities, the next evolution will be a robust digital grid connecting the Southern Gulf Islands and British Columbians in every community. Let’s use the opportunity of the current circumstances to develop our digital infrastructure.

We have all been challenged by Covid-19 and the weaknesses in our digital systems were exposed this Spring when millions of people in our province were forced to work from home and our children’s education went online. Many families are still in limbo with respect to their plans for the return to school this Fall and access online (or a lack thereof) should not be a factor in their decision making.

Every year the Legislative Finance Committee consults British Columbians about the budget for the following year. The 2020 consultation generated a higher volume of input than the committee had received in the last decade. According to the Deputy Chair MLA Dan Ashton (Penticton), digital connectivity “emerged as a central theme.”

Digital connectivity is a priority for British Columbians, and community leaders are looking to the provincial government for solutions. It’s an expensive proposition with many public and private stakeholders.

Despite the challenges there is a growing demand for a much stronger system that is widely accessible, perhaps requiring a variety of technologies to service rural, remote and isolated areas while ensuring that basic services are available at an affordable price. Let’s take advantage of this opportunity to invest in robust digital infrastructure.

Image by Joshua Kimsey from Pixabay

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  1. Ian Theaker

    Not sure if my last comment was recorded; apologies for this 2nd try….

    I’m glad BC is facing up to the need for fast, universal broadband – & glad you’re on the case, Adam!

    I’m wondering: is there much awareness / discussion of emerging satellite broadband services? Musk’s “Starlink is targeting service in the Northern US & Canada in 2020”, & Amazon is coming soon too

    • Paul DeGroot

      I’d love to see a publicly owned backbone that reached the last mile either directly or via private 3rd parties who could buy wholesale from the public owner. That’s better than shipping money for a critical service to private companies in the US that won’t pay taxes in Canada and may not be subject to Canadian regulations related to issues like network neutrality or rates charged to customers. Satellites will also have more latency and could be affected by solar flares or heavy rain.
      I realize that these are low-orbit (550Km) satellites, so latency is much lower than systems that use geo-synchronous satellites that are 36,000 kilometres out in space, but a I doubt that a 5G signal will be available via satellite anytime soon.
      A hardwired backbone, supplemented by towers when necessary, would probably be an economical solution compared with the cost of an American solution for many thousands of rural BC residents . In addition, it could be easier to upgrade a provincial fiber networks switches and other hardware to new and faster technology, which will inevitably come. Upgrading hardware on an orbiting satellite may not be so easy.

  2. Paul DeGroot

    Given how critical this infrastructure is, to many of us that take if for granted, we can easily justify this as a “right”rather than a “want,” so I’m all for this.
    I’d just note that it can have other beneficial consequences as well.
    Many British Columbians would benefit greatly from remote access to education. Many universities already offer online courses at little or no cost (you only pay if you want to take an exam and get credit for it). If you’re a family caregiver who could manage a 30-minute ride to school, but not a 2+ hour trip to attend a class you want, we know (especially now, in this covid perid) the technology can let you stay home while still broadening your education.
    Telehealth is another important technology. Many small towns have no doctor or not enough doctors. Some medical device manufacturers are building sophisticated diagnostic machines that may require some manual set-up (blood pressure cuffs, heart monitors, sterilization, bandaging, etc.) that can be done by a nursing aid with two years of training. The data can then be sent to a medical specialist hundreds of miles away, who can monitor the patient’s condition in almost real time, if the network is fast enough. Again, this can forestall an illness or injury from getting worse and requiring a long and costly trip to a distant hospital.
    It would be interesting to see how this would pan out financially: look at how much travel people in remote areas must do to get to services they need and how much they pay for transportation, housing, eating out, and babysitting while they are away. Compare that to the cost of building a 5G network to their area.


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