Increasing Indigenous internet connectivity underway: ministry

Technology council wants to ensure human right to internet met

Victoria says B.C.’s First Nations Technology Council needn’t worry about development of internet connectivity for Aboriginal communities after the legislature voted to enshrine the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) into legislation under Bill 41.

The work is being done, the Ministry of Citizens Services said.

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The council had concerns about the application of the legislation to connectivity issues, which the United Nations has said is a human right.

“Bill 41 sets the standard for Indigenous human rights in B.C., and the technology council expects to see coordinated and cross-jurisdictional action to eliminating the digital divide currently facing Indigenous people,” the council said.

The group said about 75% of B.C. Indigenous communities do not meet basic standards of broadband internet connectivity despite the United Nations declaration.

The council proposed the Indigenous Framework for Innovation and Technology to the B.C. government, suggesting a strategic roadmap to achieving digital equity across the province envisioned as a driver of economic reconciliation in the digital age.

The framework identifies several areas of intervention including connectivity and infrastructure, skills development, employment and business development, tech and innovation leadership, policy and legislation and governance and self-determination.

“A lack of equitable, affordable and sustainable access to digital and connected technologies has resulted in Indigenous peoples representing only 1% of the B.C. technology sector and Canada’s rapidly growing digital economy,” the council said.

The ministry said increased connectivity is part of work to increase rural communications in general and part of Victoria’s commitment to implementing UNDRIP.

The ministry said many Indigenous communities are underserved with an estimated 22% of Indigenous people in B.C. living on 203 First Nations primary reserves in B.C.

“Only 39%, or 80 of the primary reserves, have access to internet speeds of a minimum 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps that enable full participation in the digital economy,” the ministry said, noting UNDRIP supports the requirement for Indigenous peoples in B.C. to have meaningful access to the internet to support economic activities and have access to health and social services.

The ministry said All Nations Trust Company, a financial company responsible for fund and program administration, has approximately $20 million of provincial and federal grant funding available.

Also available, a ministry spokesperson said, is funding under the Connecting British Columbia program to support or benefit rural and Indigenous communities. It recently began an intake of new applications for part of $50 million to help rural, remote and Indigenous communities expand broadband infrastructure.

jhainsworth@glaciermedia.ca

@jhainswo

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