A Northwest Territories digital literacy organization is shining light on the sluggish speeds, limited bandwidth and high prices many northern internet users put up with simply because of where they live.
DigitalNWT launched its #NWTDigitalDivide campaign on Sept. 10 in an attempt to get northerners, particularly those in smaller and remote communities, to share their challenges accessing the internet.
Kyle Napier, a spokesperson for DigitalNWT who’s originally from Fort Smith, N.W.T., says some places in the territory have “incredibly low” internet speeds — “less than a megabyte per second.”
The purpose of the campaign, he said, is to raise awareness of the “digital divide” between urban and remote communities, so that policy-makers have the information they need to create more accessible internet.
The campaign’s organizers say the COVID-19 pandemic underscores the gaps in internet quality and price between rural and urban communities, with data caps and slow connectivity speeds preventing many rural households from fully participating in work or school from home.
“It’s just endangering communities … sacrificing or compromising their learning,” Napier said.
More specific, northern information
DigitalNWT is led by a steering committee that includes the Gwich’in Tribal Council, the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, the Sahtú Renewable Resources Board, and the Tłı̨chǫ Government.
The group says that while the digital divide problem is well-known, there is little information about “user-level” connectivity in rural communities, making it difficult for policy-makers to know which homes and organizations face the greatest barriers to accessing the internet.
That’s where the #NWTDigitalDivide campaign comes in.
N.W.T. internet users can visit digitalnwt.ca to measure their upload and download speeds with a test run by the Canadian Internet Registration Authority.
Users will then be asked to screenshot the results of their internet performance test and share them in the NWT Digital Divide Facebook group or on Twitter, using #NWTDigitalDivide. Users can also add how much they pay for their internet.
Participants can also enter a draw for prizes.
“Instead of focusing on like, ‘oh, do you have an iPad or do you have a computer?’ it’s, ‘what are the challenges and limitations of working with these?'” Napier said.
“That’s what’s really humbling about this campaign, is that it does address connectivity and addresses it in a very real way, but then further, it puts the onus on those who can make a change.”