Rural connectivity: What’s the question?

By Andy Blundell, President, C3T Action Research Corp   With Writing Contributions by Nick Conrad

Kevin Edwards of Three Hills said it best when he suggested that the broadband reality we’re seeking is “the widespread conviction by Albertans that they need to exercise the opportunities provided by technology.” Basically, information communication technology (ICT) is causing a fundamental transformation that rural communities cannot afford to ignore.

However you describe what this transformation is or looks like—globalization, increased reliance and integration with ICT and/or the Internet—it can be described as the Digital Divide. Why do rural residents and businesses use information technology less, and arguably in different ways, than their metropolitan counterparts? Looking at rural Alberta’s connectivity issues this way helps us to understand that the problem is multi-dimensional, complex and as much cultural as it is technological. Instead of an issue of access, it’s an issue of adoption.

Recently, a round table meeting on promoting rural connectivity, called Beyond Access, was held at the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus in Camrose. Thirty people from government ministries, the telecomm industry, and community and province-wide organizations were at the meeting which was financially supported by ARDN and Xplornet Communications.

Lars Hallstrom, Director of the U of A’s Centre for Sustainable Rural Communities, says promoting the use of rural connectivity is “a wicked problem.” This means that we have to think in new ways about the changing infrastructure in rural areas— but how should we approach this issue? The meeting discussion generally focused on outcomes instead of selling technology. One example was to get a clear statement from the telecom industry of its interest to help build stronger communities through education.

There were plenty of other suggestions such as the compilation and publication of success stories, a rural roadshow, identifying local champions and providing them with a support network and a workshop, conference or similar event with the Intelligent Communities Forum  (ICF) to develop a model for collaboration between communities, industry and other stakeholders.

So how do you use the Internet? Some research suggests that rural users use tools like MySpace (shows how old the research is!) How do we keep our knowledge up to date?

Some community representatives at the meeting felt the knowledge and desire for technology use was already well established while others emphasized the need for skills development, and understanding the challenges facing individual businesses and communities.

What is the link between connectivity and development?  There is consensus that unless rural businesses get connected they will be left behind. But will the Internet play a destructive role as Netflicks closes the Main Street video store? Some old-school community leaders can be resistant to change caused by new technology but without its adoption, without the opportunities to use it, rural communities will become more marginalized.

For a detailed account of the Beyond Access Round Table, click here to read a blog from Cybera, a not-for-profit that supports innovation for Alberta through IT infrastructure. You can also contact Andy Blundell for more information on how you can get involved.

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One Response to Rural connectivity: What’s the question?

  1. Hi. Just a quick note to let you know that I truly appreciated this post. I have been looking for this kind of information. Keep up the good work!

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