An N.W.T. digital literacy group is asking residents to share their digital experiences through a survey done by text.
It’s the latest way DigitalNWT is getting information from residents about their experiences in getting online.
Last year, the same group asked people to check their internet speeds through a test they could take on the organization’s website. The test is still available online.
Kyle Napier, communications coordinator for DigitalNWT, said the reason the group decided to use text to conduct the survey is because it realized most people couldn’t do the internet speed test online.
“Not even the low bandwidth version,” he said. “It’s just that bad.”
Residents can access the survey by texting 867-888-2646.
Napier said the group is also conducting surveys by going door-to-door in some communities.
So far, it’s conducted surveys in most Beaufort Delta communities as well as some in the Tłı̨chǫ region.
28 of 33 N.W.T. communities underserved
The group is using the information it gathers to make the case for more affordable and equitable internet access in the N.W.T.
Napier said DigitalNWT has found that 28 of the territory’s 33 communities are underserved with regards to digital connectivity and broadband internet access.
“If you’re outside of a community that doesn’t have, you know, 2,500 or more people, you’re really not getting the same level of service,” he said.
“And so we want to address those inequities and make change.”
DigitalNWT compiled the information it gathered from the speed tests into a report and shared it with the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which regulates the companies that operate the wireline and wireless networks in Canada.
“Without information, the CRTC can’t make policy changes,” said Napier.
“They aren’t aware of the digital divide that occurs across Northwest Territories, so we use [the information] to inform policy change at the national level, and we hope that it affects, you know, lived experiences for residents of the Northwest Territories,” he said.
Napier said the group also uses the information to inform its education programming.
For example, it is developing six digital literacy courses that people can take at their own pace.
More important than ever
Leanne Goose, a researcher with DigitalNWT, said the [digital] infrastructure in the North is dated and not as good as it is in the South, and it’s challenging for many families to have an affordable internet package.
“We have one company that holds the monopoly in the North. And there’s not a lot of opportunity for people to be able to advocate for a better service, for better packaging and to build up the infrastructure and also see training for our community members to be able to work in the field of digital technology and communications,” she said.
She said the pandemic has made affordable internet access even more urgent as many people are isolating at home and going to school or work online.
“We are living in a time and a place where we actually need to be connected to a global world,” she said.
She said it’s important for N.W.T. residents to share how difficult it is to keep the internet on “and just to be able to engage for a service that they do pay quite highly for.”
She added it’s just as important to connect with the world digitally for N.W.T. residents to share their own content and have their voices heard.
“You know, this is how we are able to keep growing and share our culture,” she said.