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TC role in advocacy for community broadband

Report on a meeting on February 11, 2015

Present:

  • Anthony Niiganii
  • Clarice Leader
  • Elizabeth Wilson
  • Garth Graham
  • Michael Gurstein
  • James Van Leeuwen
  • Marita Moll
  • Co-ordinating and reporting: Marita Moll

James provided a brief overview of the community broadband movement in the U.S. and the fact that the movement has gained such credibility that President Obama promoted community broadband in his recent speech in Cedar Falls, Iowa which (with federal assistance) has built a thriving community owned broadband network http://www.kcrg.com/subject/news/government/text-president-obamas-speech-in-cedar-falls-20150114.

In the U.S., community broadband has an extensive profile with organizations, websites, print materials, regional and national events, etc. working to enhance its visibility (e.g. Broadband Communities Magazine, Fibre to the Home Council). Because it is being promoted as a key economic driver, it has been seen as politically beneficial for governments and regulators in the U.S. to be supportive. James has attended a number of events in the U.S. and has spoken with advocates and organizations there who would like to help bring some of this information to Canada by way of a conference either in Toronto or Vancouver.

The situation in Canada is very different. Although there are successful community owned broadband networks, as an issue it is barely on the radar. But, with the recent success in the U.S., this should be a good time to ramp up advocacy in Canada. There is no clear leader emerging at a national level to take on the role of aggregating interest on this topic. TC could play an important role in taking up the challenge.

A lively discussion ensued regarding the nature of the population served by such networks, the infrastructure used, the options for communities who are seeking better connectivity, examples of Canadian communities who have embraced the concept (Coquitlam), and the need for a public perspective on services/ownership/benefits of such a network. Although private interests are necessarily involved in the building of community owned broadband systems, in the end, private companies are about wealth extraction not wealth creation. This is a message that community leaders need to hear more often.

In order to move the agenda ahead, the following activities are suggested:

  1. Survey of TC members on the meaning of broadband in the context of their communities/ province. Examples of such systems in place or underway.
  2. Develop an inventory of interested persons/organizations.
  3. Start a space on the TC website to contain information on community broadband
  4. Reinforce TC's mandate to include community broadband issues as an area of interest.

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