Bridging the digital divide

Equal access to the internet is an urban issue.

It will hardly come as news that the internet has assumed outsized importance in our lives. It connects people, let’s them share information and sparks creativity.

These are all functions that help explain the rise of cities. As the world becomes increasingly urban, it’s important to remember that the success of cities is still based on those principles. Cities connect people, function as creative hubs and fuel national economies.

But in the age of the internet not all cities are created equal. 

In the U.S., the digital divide is well established. There are differences in broadband access among cities. And high-tech (and well-paying) jobs are concentrated in certain areas of the country. There are also gaps within cities. Not all citizens can access the internet or improve their computer literacy.

American cities like Nashville and Washington. D.C. are taking steps — high-tech and low-tech — to close the gap. 

In Canada, the picture is a little different, but there is still cause for concern. Some 2 million Canadians don’t have a reliable internet connection. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities wants to see the issue addressed in the federal election campaign. 

A recent report by TD Bank economists takes a closer looks at Canada’s digital divide. It found that our digital divide was nowhere near as extreme as in the U.S., but that Canada was “developing fertile ground.”

The report finds that Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa and Calgary are home to 70% of the jobs in the country’s digital services sector. (Edmonton and Kitchener-Waterloo are “rising stars.”) These cities began to attract even more of these jobs after the 2008 financial crisis. It’s a trend that could deepen regional differences.
To prevent this, the report makes some recommendations. These include introducing computer literacy courses as early as kindergarten, strengthening ties between tech firms and schools, and giving government help to firms in smaller centres.

Time will tell if any of these recommendations are adopted. But one thing is certain: in the internet age reliable internet access is critical for cities to flourish

September 13th, 2019

The health of Canadian cities has gone digital