When it comes to Aboriginals in Canada, there is a significant percentage who do not have sufficient broadband connections. According to Statistics Canada, three-quarters of Aboriginal Internet users live in urban centers, where broadband infrastructure is widespread and relatively accessible. However, about half of the Aboriginal population continues to reside in rural and remote communities, where this infrastructure is generally non-existent.
In rural and remote Aboriginal communities, the cost of broadband access is often prohibitive, as corporate service providers are less likely to develop networks in expensive-to-service areas. Rural and remote Aboriginal communities tend to pay more for services, yet have less access to broadband. For Bell DSL Internet service in the city of Montreal, a $30 per month plan includes 5Mbps download speed and 15GB of usage. NorthwestTel, a subsidiary of Bell, is one of the few providers of DSL internet service in Nunavut. The same download speed of 5Mbps from NorthwestTel comes with 30GB of usage, for $180 a month. Broadband pricing mechanisms are among the main reasons for the continuing digital divide between urban and rural communities.
Of the Aboriginal communities that do have access to the Internet, many only have unreliable dial-up service. Researcher Adam Fiser, consulting for Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, reported that in 2007 nearly two-thirds of Canada’s urban communities, and almost half of its remote communities, had access to some form of broadband service. In comparison, only 17% of First Nations communities had broadband access. Given its maximum speed of 56 Kb/s and its unstable connection through phone lines, dial-up Internet severely limits the ability of users to visit web pages, send emails and download information. As a result of these limitations, the digital divide for Aboriginals continues to grow.
This divide exists not only in terms of Internet access but also in terms of digital literacy. Limited access to broadband networks in isolated areas has inhibited the ability of Aboriginals to develop the basic skills necessary to engage with the Internet. According to Statistics Canada survey, 34% of urban aboriginal Internet users described their computer skills as “excellent”, compared with only 21% of rural users. The study concluded that a gap exists among Aboriginal Internet users themselves that separated more experienced urban users from their rural counterparts. Digital literacy increasingly represents the basic cost of entry for an education, a job, or access to the government. In the absence of such skills, rural and remote Aboriginals will continue to be at a disadvantage.