Telus has recently completed a $14 million fibre optic network build connecting northern Vancouver Island. Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services Amrik Virk was in Port Hardy on July 27 as part of the completion.
Sitting inside busy Cafe Guido, Minister Virk says that he wants to encourage connectivity in B.C. through both highways and “eye ways,” a nod to the wealth of information available online.
Minister Virk says that 93 per cent of the population in B.C. has connectivity, meaning access to 5MB/second internet, basically “Netflix speed.” 190 of the 203 First Nations in B.C. have connectivity. His goal by 2020 is for 100% of the province’s population to have this access.
British Columbia is a geographically challenging area for this, as rugged terrain in much of the province can make implementing internet infrastructure significantly more difficult than in flatter parts of the country. He says staff from Xplornet, a rural broadband provider, access some remote communities to set up internet through complex journeys that can involve stretches by both boats and quads.
While the investment and attention to internet infrastructure in northern Vancouver Island is a huge step, education and funds towards online literacy are important as well. For many older people and those who did not grow up in the information age, many aspects of the online world can be intimidating and overwhelming. When the internet is used for services like cashing cheques, checking the status of social services and assistance, and applying for jobs, knowing how to use it effectively is key.
Minister Virk, formerly the Minister of Advanced Education, acknowledges that it can be a challenge for some, and says that having high speed internet in schools is ideal so education begins early. He also points to North Island College, who offer a range of internet literacy courses ranging from the basics of how to turn a computer on all the way to Photoshop and online entrepreneurship.
Minister Virk believes there is a clear tie between technology and innovation, and thinks that they can help diversify the economy.
Further diversification of the economy in this region could be considered extremely important, from expanding tourism to softening the blow of incidents like the recent pulp mill curtailment in Port Alice. Minister Virk thinks that access to reliable internet can enhance this by providing resources and opening opportunities.
Having internet, even in remote places, expands opportunities because it allows people more accessibility and the power to do what they want while living where they want. Virk says that with great internet access, there would be nothing to stop a tech company from setting up in Port Hardy-all they need is good line speed.