Spotlight on Tech: Connectivity in British Columbia

What does connectivity mean to you?

Is it staying connected to your family across the Province? Is it ensuring you’re able to work while exploring some of the natural beauty in destinations like Tofino or Nelson? Or are you recruiting talent or establishing an office outside of the Lower Mainland?

Connectivity is important for British Columbia, and Canada as a whole. For this month’s Spotlight on Tech, Jill Tipping, President & CEO of BC Tech spoke to Susan Stanford, ADM Technology, Connectivity and Distributed Growth – Government of British Columbia on the Province’s plan for connectivity, including the bright spots, the opportunities and what’s next. 

Its all about collaboration

“Connectivity is a critical piece of our infrastructure. While telecommunications are federally regulated, and our provincial consumer networks aren’t built by government, working with the private sector is important to ensuring high speed internet reaches every British Columbian. There’s still a key role for the provincial government in facilitation” explained Stanford. “Today we have more than 80 service providers that bring broadband and cellular services to communities of all sizes throughout the province, and we’re continuously working with them to ensure that citizens and small businesses in rural areas are connected. As well, the Province supports communities on their connectivity planning so that it maximizes the potential of high-speed internet and helps to achieve greater economic, social and environmental benefits for them.

Connectivity is an essential service

When we think of being connected, we think of WIFI, fibre optic networks, and the advancement of 5G. Connectivity addresses essential needs for communities across the Province: from emergency responsiveness around natural disasters to ensuring technology companies have the bandwidth they need to grow and scale. The Provincial and Federal governments have made significant investments to improve connectivity in B.C. 

The Connected Coast 

One key example shared by Stanford is the ‘Connected Coast’ project. “This initiative will bring new or improved high-speed internet accessibility to approximately 150 rural and remote coastal communities, including about 50 Indigenous communities – representing 44 First Nations – along the B.C. coast from north of Prince Rupert, to Haida Gwaii, south to Vancouver, and around Vancouver Island” Stanford told us. These communities will be empowered by this connectivity, whether it allows them to access a tool to share and teach their language or ensure they are connected to health care providers. Check out this wonderful video from the Government of B.C.’s Connected series which highlights the impacts on the Haida Gwaii community. Click here to watch.  

There’s more work to do

At a glance, the CRTC national data paints a positive picture for BC—over 90% of British Columbians have access to the CRTC standard 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload. Yet, when we look at the same information from a community perspective, only 36% of BC’s rural communities, and 38% of BC’s rural Indigenous communities are fully served at the CRTC standard. As Stanford says, “For many of these communities connectivity is their lifeline, particularly during a pandemic.” It helps them stay informed, connected and able to access medical attention and other essential services. It’s also a huge opportunity for increasing the talent pool in British Columbia through reskilling and hiring talent in rural communities.

Covid-19 connectivity action 

Stanford also discussed how connectivity is helping B.C. meet the needs created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, the BC Government launched a direct response to COVID-19 by providing funding to smaller, more agile connectivity projects that ensured communities struggling with connectivity saw real impact during COVID-19. With many working and learning from home, seeing their doctors via telehealth options and utilizing technology to support home schooling, connectivity is essential. Stanford highlights that the program saw results by mid-June and has increased internet speeds to approximately 12,000 households.. 

Bright spots across BC

While a reality check on the numbers identifies where we have room for improvement, there are still many stories of the positive impact connectivity has on remote communities. Take Thrive Health and their teams working from Campbell River and Nelson, or Traction on Demand in Nelson. As Stanford highlighted, while many rural and indigenous communities are still working toward the CRTC standard, some, like Nelson and Kelowna are already “hyper” connected and ready for 5G—further enabling tech companies in those communities.

As we closed our conversation, Stanford raised the example of Tofino, where connectivity is shaping the technologies the community is contemplating for preparedness and protection for residents, tourists, and local government in the event of an emergency. From alarms activated from remote offices on the shoreline, to alerts pushed through SMS messaging and social media platforms, connectivity can enable proactive responses. This video highlights what connectivity means for a favourite destination for many of us.