Tech by VICE

At Shoal Lake 40, Trudeau Vows to Close Digital Divide

The prime minister revealed few details of the plan.

by Jordan Pearson
May 3 2016, 12:00pm

Justin Trudeau and Shoal Lake 40 Chief Erwin Redsky. Image: VICE

Many of Canada's indigenous communities live in a state of constant emergency. Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, a northern community on a manmade island at the border of Manitoba and Ontario, has essentially existed without clean drinking water for nearly two decades.

But a less obvious handicap also plagues communities like Shoal Lake 40: limited access to high speed internet connections. That deprives them of medical information, education resources, and simple entertainment. The situation is so bad, in fact, that some communities have taken to building their own internet infrastructure.

On April 28, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Shoal Lake 40 with VICE to discuss some of the most pressing issues facing First Nations communities—like drinking water, and access to the internet—and doubled down on his commitment to improve access and close what critics call Canada's digital divide. Check out the rest of VICE News' interview with the prime minister here.

"There's a digital divide still between communities that have easy, reliable, affordable broadband and those who don't"

The only problem is, as was the case under the Harper government, details on how this will actually be done are scarce—and Trudeau's remarks at Shoal Lake 40 didn't provide any more clarity.

"We've earmarked significant money for broadband improvement," Trudeau told VICE's Patrick McGuire in an interview at Shoal Lake 40, which is near Kenora, Ontario. "In rural and remote areas absolutely, but even in many urban areas, there's a digital divide still between communities that have easy reliable affordable broadband and those who don't."

When pressed for details, Trudeau continued: "We're starting to work right now on it. One of the things that Canadians have been rightly disappointed is that governments tend to talk a good game, yes this is a priority, this we need to do, and action hasn't followed."

"There's some setting up to do, but our focus is on delivering," the prime minister added.

For nearly a decade, Canada's government has failed to deliver on its promises regarding Canada's digital divide. Despite years of moving targets and private sector incentives to build infrastructure where it's needed, people in Canada's rural and northern areas are still deeply dissatisfied with their internet.

A recent poll, commissioned by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, revealed that rural and northern Canadians were two and three times as likely, respectively, to be dissatisfied with the speed and reliability of their connection. When asked who should fix the problem, the government or the market, just 14 percent of respondents said the market was equipped to outfit their communities with broadband.

The Liberal government is six months into its mandate, Trudeau noted, meaning that there is plenty of time left to make good on the many failed promises of the previous administration to tackle issues that continue to plague First Nations communities.

Some specifics would be a good start, though.