Province commits $3.9 million CAD for internet improvements in BC Indigenous communities

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High-speed internet is coming to nine Indigenous communities in BC as part of new provincial funding commitments.

The territories of Ashcroft Indian Band, Upper Nicola Band, Cook’s Ferry First Nation, Shackan Indian Band, Bonaparte First Nation, Saik’uz First Nation, Kitselas First Nation, Lheidli T’enneh and Coldwater Indian Band are scheduled by this fall to have faster and more reliable internet.

Only 35 percent of BC’s rural Indigenous communities and 33 percent of rural non-Indigenous communities have access to 50/10 Mbps broadband service.

Telus is receiving up to $3.58 million CAD from the Connecting British Columbia program for projects to improve internet access for the nine Indigenous Bands and First Nations communities.

Internet service provider ABC Communications has also been approved for a Connecting British Columbia program grant of up to $322,010. The grant will support a project to improve high-speed internet access in Yekooche First Nation territory.

“Working together with First Nations, the private sector and all levels of government, we are seeing steady progress toward a future where all Indigenous communities have the fast and reliable internet access they need,” said Murray Rankin, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation.

“This will open doors to new economic and social opportunities for people as we emerge from the pandemic.”

Network BC reports that as of 2018, only 35 percent of BC’s rural Indigenous communities and 33 percent of rural non-Indigenous communities have access to 50/10 Mbps broadband service, according to the 2019 BC Connectivity Report. A majority of Indigenous communities work with inadequate technology, underpowered broadband connections, and under-nourished IT budgets. The vast majority of Indigenous communities across BC are in rural areas.

Digital equality – both in terms of digital literacy and access to connectivity – represents a divide in access to opportunities and prosperity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in BC, the connectivity report noted.

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“Digital connectivity is an important step forward in the BC government’s commitments to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples through the adoption of the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action,” the report added.

The announcement comes as part of the BC government’s $10 billion COVID-19 response, which includes StrongerBC, the province’s economic recovery plan. In September 2020, the provincial government made its largest contribution to the Connecting British Columbia program, with $90 million in new funding under StrongerBC.

Northern Development Initiative Trust (NDIT) has been the fund administrator for Connecting British Columbia since its start in 2015. A regionally operated economic development funding corporation for central and northern British Columbia, NDIT operates independently from government.

Image courtesy BC government.

Charles Mandel

Charles Mandel

Charles Mandel's reporting and writing on technology has appeared in Wired.com, Canadian Business, Report on Business Magazine, Canada's National Observer, The Globe and Mail, and the National Post, among many others. He lives off-grid in Nova Scotia.