Part Two of Broadband in Castlegar: Why broadband?
By Everette Surgenor
Proponents of broadband networks and services believe that they can have a positive impact on economic development, education, health and social services and, eventually, on the way people interact with their government as well as voting.
The primary mandate of the Castlegar Broadband Committee at this time is to explore how broadband can benefit the business community. The committee is also aware of the potential benefit of broadband to the community in general, including community and service groups, seniors, and other organizations and institutions within the community. The committee sees those as topics for possible future discussion.
Broadband initiatives are being undertaken in a variety of places around the world. It is a tool and a set of services that are viewed as important to a nation’s economic viability and sustainability. It is a way people can have equity of access and equity of opportunity to information and resources within their society.
In BC, there is a clear distinction between the telecommunication speeds and services available to rural and urban communities. Those who live in urban areas have access to a more affordable higher telecommunication speeds and a wider array of services than do their rural cousins. Some parts of the Kootenay region are still on dial-up access to the Internet at low speed levels and sometimes inconsistent and unreliable services.
This is not the fault of telecommunications companies. They operate on a profit model that demands a profit commensurate with their investment. There are not enough people in the Kootenay region to generate or warrant that type of investment in high speed/high capacity technologies at affordable pricing. This means that local communities need to find innovative ways to bring high speed broadband to their communities.
What will broadband mean to me? It is more than accessing e-mail and web-browsing. It is about providing communities with a capacity and an opportunity to improve upon services and resources, especially those that have been downsized or eliminated due to changes in the economy and the downsizing or elimination of government programs and services in the areas like education and health.
Many people who live here in the Kootenay region believe that they live in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. There are a variety of lifestyle options that cater to many individual interests and passions including fishing, hiking, camping, skiing, snowboarding, golf, photography, etc. Quality broadband services, like the ones being considered by the City, would enable more economic development within the region.
But the benefits of this network are more than just financial. Other benefits include the opportunity to expand educational access to programs as well as training. When programs can’t be offered at the secondary level because of low enrolments, for example, it may be possible to have students connect to other schools or the College and be online participants in the program via high quality and dependable teleconferencing services.
These networks can also enhance the delivery of and access to government services and reduce the amount of travel that people must presently endure. Travel is an accepted part of the lifestyle in the region, but the need for such travel could be reduced through the utilization of broadband services. There is some speculation that broadband connections will become the future method by which people vote in their elections as Governments (Federal, Provincial and Municipal) improve access through the employment of E-Government concepts.
Broadband access can also provide municipal governments and local institutions with online services that will allow Boards and Councils to better engage taxpayers and citizens in the democratic process through the use of online surveys and feedback mechanisms on key issues. Although the present focus in Castlegar is towards connecting the business community to broadband services, there may come a time when other applications may be considered