By Jean-Paul McDonald
Saskatchewan faces a widening digital divide, with unequal broadband access affecting many, particularly in rural and remote communities. The Saskatchewan Broadband Action Committee (SBAC) is urging the Provincial Government to adopt a formal Broadband Development & Investment Framework to address this issue.
Despite the increasing necessity of internet access, Saskatchewan has seen the lowest per capita investment from the Federal Government since 2015. This lack of investment contributes to a persistent digital divide, highlighted in a Federal Auditor’s Report.
The report emphasizes the inadequacy of services for rural and First Nations communities, with 53% of local respondents in a 2022 survey lacking proper high-speed internet.
The SBAC, formed in 2021, comprises various provincial, local, and Indigenous organizations. It arose in response to the heightened broadband issues during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Their mission is ambitious but clear: achieve broadband infrastructure parity by 2025 and exceed national standards by 2030, ensuring reliable internet for all Saskatchewan residents.
Key to this plan is the establishment of a community-based Broadband Coordination & Planning Office, a Regional Community Capacity Grant ranging from $3.0M to $4.0M, and a substantial $50M Market Incentive Co-Funding Infrastructure Grant. These initiatives aim to stimulate development and extend high-speed internet to all corners of the province.
Interestingly, Saskatchewan is the only province without a dedicated broadband improvement strategy, a gap the SBAC seeks to fill with its proposed framework. Their focus extends beyond simple connectivity, also encompassing the socio-economic opportunities reliable internet can provide to individuals and communities.
The SBAC's comprehensive strategy underscores the necessity of the internet in modern life and the importance of equal access. As the digital world continues to expand, ensuring that no Saskatchewan resident is left behind becomes all the more crucial.
With the Provincial Government's support, the SBAC's framework could mark a new digital era for Saskatchewan, providing equal opportunities for all in the digital landscape.