B.C. First Nations’ lack of broadband Internet access called “ridiculous”
“Here it’s 2012, and we still have a chunk of First Nations that may not be connected for four years,” Sue Hanley said in an interview at the Coast Plaza Hotel in Vancouver. “It’s absolutely ridiculous when you look at what’s happening around the world.”
Hanley spoke to the Straight on February 21, hours before the B.C. Liberal government released its 2012 budget.
One budget document, the service plan of the Ministry of Labour, Citizens’ Services and Open Government, shows that 170 First Nations, or 84 percent of those in B.C., are forecast to have high-speed Internet connectivity by the end of the 2011–12 fiscal year. That would leave 33 First Nations, or 16 percent, without broadband access.
Government targets would see 195 First Nations, or 96 percent, with broadband by 2014–15. These targets have been lowered over the years. For instance, a 2009 budget document put the 2011–12 target at 190 First Nations, or 94 percent.
“We’ve been told that roughly the timeline is that 10 per year will be connected, although we haven’t seen that happening,” FNTC executive director Norm Leech told the Straight at the hotel, where his organization will hold its Information and Communication Technology Summit from Thursday to Saturday (February 23 to February 25).
Minister of Labour, Citizens’ Services and Open Government Margaret MacDiarmid told the Straight “geographically less challenging” First Nations have been connected more quickly than more remote communities.
“We’ve actually done very well, relative to other jurisdictions,” MacDiarmid said by phone. “But having said that, I really do understand when people are complaining and asking us to go as quickly as we can. It’s very important.”
Leech noted that the federal and provincial governments have allocated funds for connectivity, but said the FNTC must continue to advocate for broadband in all of B.C.’s 203 First Nations.
“We have to keep raising the issue that 93-percent-rate connectivity does not constitute mission accomplished in B.C.,” Leech said, referring to the percentage of B.C. residents with broadband access.