Advocacy Groups Propose WiFi “Mesh Network” Pilot Project to Bridge Digital Divide and Promote Internet Fairness

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Recent reports from two local rights organizations indicate that further community action is needed to bridge the growing digital divide in Ottawa which has been made worse by the pandemic.

Released to the public in early December, the reports were produced by the Social Planning Council of Ottawa, a non-profit, non-partisan charitable organization, and Digital Equity Ottawa, a group founded by a non-profit internet service provider National Capital FreeNet.

the reports include feedback from schools, libraries, community health centers, an Ottawa Community Housing survey of tenants, and internet speed test data. The papers brought together information from urban and rural Ottawa, as well as surrounding counties, analyzed data and perspectives, and reached conclusions about what the region needs to do to overcome disparities in Internet access and service.

the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, based in Ottawa, collects data on Internet infrastructure and usage in Canada. CIRA’s speed test data was used to assess which areas of the city are experiencing connectivity gaps.

Tanya O’Callaghan, CIRA’s vice president of community investment, policy and advocacy, said in a press release that the digital divide is not just geographic.

“Our data shows that the digital divide in Canada is not just an urban issue versus a rural issue: it’s also a socio-economic issue,” O’Callaghan said. “If you look at the map, you see slow internet speeds right in the heart of the nation’s capital. Low-income residents don’t deserve poor internet quality.

While there are other factors related to the digital divide, there are stark differences between urban and rural internet connectivity. [Graphic © Boosting the Signal: Increasing Digital Equity in Ottawa]

Based on the findings of the reports, advocates say that a community WiFi mesh network could be a viable solution to solving some of Ottawa’s internet access problems.

A community WiFi mesh network uses interconnected routers that improve Internet connectivity. Networks are unmetered and allow multiple homes or buildings in a community to access the Internet simultaneously.

The release of the reports follows a rally on November 16 at Ottawa City Hall, led by anti-poverty group ACORN, in which protesters called for better access to internet services for low-income residents. income from the city and a reconceptualization of high quality services. Internet as a human right.

NCF says it wants to pilot a community WiFi mesh network project to provide free public WiFi and affordable home Internet for users. The project would build on the existing infrastructure from the WiFi antennas of the OCH towers located in the city.

If such a network is approved, reports indicate that the project would be based in an OCH building at 800, boul. in the Vanier / Overbrook sector because the neighborhood was considered unfair in the SPCO Neighborhood actions index.

“Low-income residents don’t deserve poor internet quality. “

– Tanya O’Callaghan, CIRA’s Vice President of Community Investment, Policy and Defense

There would be pilot stages, according to the documents. The first step would provide free public Wi-Fi in the common areas of the Ottawa Community Housing building and mesh connectivity to neighboring homes. Later steps could provide home Wi-Fi to the apartment complex and free public Wi-Fi to other community spaces.

Andrew Martey Asare, director of business and community development at NCF, said in a press release that the high costs of Internet services in Canada underscore the need for a new approach.

“When home internet is expensive enough that people go without or pay for it by compromising on their food budgets, the current system is broken. We are looking for alternatives, ”said Martey Asare.

Canada has some of the highest internet prices in the world, ranking 12th out of 108 countries. [Graphic © Jillian Piper]

According to Numbeo, a user-generated statistical database, Canada ranks 12th out of 108 countries for highest monthly utility price for 60 megabits per second or more Internet speed, unlimited data and cable at $ 79.83.

Dianne Urquhart, executive director of SPCO, said in a press release that inequality and high prices for internet access are particularly difficult since lockdowns from COVID-19 have increased the dependence of Ottawans on it. Internet access.

“During lockdowns, people had to access school, work, medical appointments, social services and stay in touch with friends and family online,” Urquhart said. “If they didn’t have affordable home internet access, a connected device like a tablet, or the digital skills to use these tools, they were left behind.

CIRA encourages local Internet service providers and the City of Ottawa to act quickly to improve conditions for residents.

“CIRA encourages the City of Ottawa and all those who provide Internet service locally to take a close look at this report,” said O’Callaghan, “and see what they can do to help fill these gaps in the future. digital equity issue as soon as possible.

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