Jacey Firth-Hagen has seen the digital divide firsthand.
Having grown up in Inuvik, lived in Yellowknife and gone to school in Alberta, she attests to the fact that internet speed and reliability varies widely, depending on geography.
“It can be pretty alarming,” she said.
As the creator of the Gwich’in language revival campaign, #SpeakGwichintome, Firth-Hagen works to connect with Elders, youth and community members across the North and the country. She relies heavily on digital communication to do so.
Firth-Hagen’s experience has transformed her into an advocate and a contractor to the digital literacy focused organization Digital NWT.
Digital NWT, which facilitates media workshops, is also working to increase the NWTs engagement in the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)’s call for feedback on Northern services – an initiative that Firth-Hagen calls “really great.”
The callout launched on Nov. 2 and closes Jan. 20. It invites residents of Canada’s North to share their experiences with internet and telephone services “to ensure that all Canadians have access to high-quality telecommunication services.”
“The information collected will help the commission better understand the current issues and challenges related to telecommunications services in Canada’s North,” the Crown corporation wrote on its website. “It will also help us update the rules to ensure that services are available at affordable rates, now and for years to come.”
The last time the CRTC called for feedback was five years ago. That’s why Firth-Hagen and Digital NWT are working to ensure Northern residents have their voices heard.
On Jan. 12, Digital NWT hosted a virtual workshop to facilitate delivering feedback to the commission.
“It really is an opportunity to put forward what their situation is like,” said Rob McMahon, project co-director and a professor of media and technology at the University of Alberta, referring to Northern residents looking to engage with the CRTC.
McMahon said the issue of equitable internet services has become even more glaring amid the pandemic.
“Throughout Covid-19, we’re seeing increased awareness,” he said, “of the role that the internet plays in our lives.”
McMahon points to remote health care, online education, digital work from home and connecting with friends and family as examples of increased internet reliance in recent months.
However, “there are many parts of the country where people are unable to access those opportunities due to either slow speeds, limited access, unreliable access or high costs,” he explained.
McMahon said the irony is not lost on him that the Digital NWT workshop was virtual, though he added that organizers sought to make accommodations with a call-in line in addition to the Zoom presentation.
While McMahon recognizes engaging with the commission can be intimidating, he heard participants say they better understood the process after the workshop.
He said providing the CRTC with feedback is in itself a digital literacy activity.
“Having people understand the quality of internet services, the speed, understanding how things like data caps work and the associated costs, are all tied into digital literacy,” he said.
To submit feedback to the CRTC, residents can visit the CRTC website to fill out a survey online, by mail or by fax by 6 p.m. MT on Jan. 20.