The multitude of digital divides

The problem goes beyond connecting communities with internet access

The Government of Canada has been trying to bridge the digital divide in Canada.

It wants to connect 98 percent of Canadians with high-speed internet by 2026, providing minimum download speeds of 50Mbps and upload speeds of 10Mbps.

The move has resulted in several announcements over the past year and a half, with funding contributions that would set up applicable infrastructure across Canada, including recent announcements for New Brunswick, PEI, and Quebec.

While the actions are important, funding only addresses one aspect of the digital divide, bringing high-speed internet to underserved communities. But the digital divide is so much more than that.

According to Guy Diedrich, senior vice president and Global Innovation Officer at Cisco Systems, the digital divide doesn’t have one layer alone. There are “so many different layers to a digital divide,” he said at Cisco’s press and analyst conference earlier this month.

Diedrich explained that while building the means to access the internet is important, it doesn’t mean much if people can’t afford to use it. “If you look at some of the most advanced, most developed cities in the world, there’s still a divide.”

A single number depicting the layers isn’t available. “More [layers] today than there was yesterday,” Diedrich told MobileSyrup. “That’s the best answer.”

The digital divide isn’t just about focusing on urban and rural areas; it includes numerous layers: socio-economic status, gender, ethnicity, and many more. “Just because you have connectivity doesn’t mean that you have access to that.”

Speaking on the government’s role, Diedrich said more could be done.

“There are huge parts of the population that will benefit from a more nuanced approach to the digital divide, and any government that wants to truly commit to closing that has got to acknowledge and fund those layers,” he told MobileSyrup.

Cisco is helping to address the digital divide through its Country Digital Acceleration (CDA) Program by working with governments to build solutions to the problem.

Through this program, Cisco partnered with the City of Toronto to launch the first of 25 Wi-Fi hotspots in underserved communities.

The Digital Canopy project involved technology investments and services valued at more than $1 million, connecting upwards of 13,000 residents in low-income areas.

Available through all levels of government, Cisco will work with governments through the CDA program if they make providing access a priority and have funding available. Diedrich said Cisco doesn’t approach any government.

Like the contributions the Government of Canada makes, this collaboration alone won’t solve all the digital challenges Toronto’s underserved residents face.

But these projects have highlighted the need for government to examine and address the multitude of problems that come with the digital divide.

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