Local organizations proposing project to bridge digital divide brought on by COVID

The digital divide has always existed, but it was the spread of the new coronavirus that brought the issue to the fore.

The gap between those who have access to the internet and those who do not generally conclude with conversations about connectivity in urban areas compared to rural communities.

But a recent list of studies from National Capital FreeNet (NCF), a nonprofit Internet service provider, and the Ottawa Social Planning Council (SPC) show that the picture, at least in Canada’s capital city, is different.

Connectivity challenges also exist in urban areas and are largely related to women, low-income communities, people living with a disability, or residents of black, indigenous, or color.

These studies focus on how digital equity can be increased in Ottawa to ensure that everyone can access the Internet.

Challenges in urban connectivity

When the pandemic struck, libraries, cafes and government buildings – places where there is free Wi-Fi – were forced to close. Those who relied on these places for Internet access, mostly low-income people, were left behind.

The closing highlighted a number of challenges.

The first was the lack of access to the devices. Internet connection is impossible without a compatible device. Research shows that older people and low-income residents are more likely not to have access to an appropriate device. Although this problem existed before the pandemic, it was not given due importance since access could be sought in public places, such as libraries.

Supplies were also often available through organizations that repaired donated devices. This was greatly affected when people started working from home and the demand grew. Social distancing also makes it difficult for staff to continue working on any remodeling project. While many organizations donated devices, gaps still existed.

The second challenge was the lack of digital literacy. This focuses on specific knowledge of devices, software, and the Internet.

The third challenge was to improve the digital capacity of volunteer organizations. Nonprofit programs are important in tackling inequalities, but connectivity presents its own challenges. The findings point out that many organizations faced challenges in shifting their operations online during COVID.

The fourth challenge was the gap that exists in urban communities, as many who live in the city do not have adequate access to the Internet. The report highlights affordability as an issue in Ottawa, leading many to compromise.

“During closures, people needed to access school, work, medical appointments, social services, and stay in touch with friends and family online. If they didn’t have affordable home internet, a connected device like a tablet, or the digital skills to use these tools, they were left out, ”said Dianne Urquhart, CEO of SPC Ottawa. it said in a statement.

The report provides a series of recommendations to solve these challenges. Due to the lack of access to devices, programs that focus on borrowing devices must be expanded to allow more people to have access. Community members can also be thought about how to renovate donated computers to increase the supply. To increase digital literacy, learning opportunities can be shared with community members and more programs can be offered. Improving affordability will further help the voluntary sector gain access to programs that give them more access. This will also help bridge the urban divide.

A community mesh network

NCF has been examining ways to provide faster Internet access at a lower cost for those in need in the Ottawa area.

He has submitted a proposal to test a community mesh network. This is a wireless network where infrastructure devices, known as nodes, connect with other nodes to transmit data.

This project will be completed in partnership with Ottawa Community Housing. Broadband solutions will be offered to tenants and pricing is currently under review. Public access to Wi-Fi will also be available free of charge in community spaces.

The organization is currently looking to fund this project and a start date is not available at this time.

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