The importance of internet access

Hit and Miss #25

I came home to a surprise last week.

My dad upgraded our internet package, tripling the speeds.

I recently reflected on the significance of internet access. One of the co-op positions I interviewed for included work on expanding Canadian broadband access, which caused me to realize how important home internet access was for me as I grew up.

My memories of internet at home start with playing Runescape on dialup. Over the years we upgraded now and then, but we were comfortable at 5 mbps down and stayed there for a long time. I still think it’s a decent, acceptable speed: HD streaming isn’t as practical, but if you sit far enough back SD becomes HD.

Sometimes the download speeds posed challenges. One summer I was conducting usability research for a client. I Skyped with users who shared their screens with me. I quickly realized that this consumed all our bandwidth, and had to ask my sister not to stream Netflix whenever I was on one of these calls.

But I was fortunate to have such download speeds at all. Reliable access to the internet allowed me to start my own business. My life would be very different if I couldn’t have built websites and communicated with clients from home. Not everyone shares that opportunity: internet access varies widely across Canada (original report) and some areas remain disproportionately underserved (select the “Unserved/Underserved Population” option, zoom in, and pan around).

Given the importance of digital services, some populations lose out because internet access is not equally available. Rural and remote areas, as well as many First Nations reserves, do not have the same internet access as urban Canada. (And it’s often urban Canada who designs and promotes those digital services.)

There are some inventive solutions out there. The Kitchener Public Library lends wireless hotspots (news story) and there are initiatives—government and otherwise—to expand internet access. We’re improving, bit by bit.

But I just want to highlight explicitly how important the internet is and how lucky are those who have regular access to it. I know I take it for granted, but I ought not to. An excellent surprise for all Canadians, I think, would be the one I received last week: to come home to faster, more reliable internet, and all the opportunities that offers.

Sent on February 25th, 2018.