Harper Government Deletes Community Access Program: Late evening on April 5th Community Access Program (CAP) sites across Canada received a letter from Industry Canada Director General Lisa Setlakwe that the Program “has achieved its objectives” and funding has been terminated, effective immediately. The letter goes on to say the Federal Government is committed to “prioritizing expenditures”. It does, however, suggest that youth employment money may be available for internet access sites that continue to exist after the cuts. How a CAP site can hire and supervise youth when it has no funding to operate is not explained in the letter.
I am a member of Telecommunities Canada which has been fighting to preserve CAP. In Muskoka, MCAP, Muskoka CAP, is run by administrators Phyllis Ingram Winnington and Lynda Rickard. As a volunteer, i helped them get CAP stations in community centres around Muskoka Lakes and in the Muskoka Lakes Chamber of Commerce. More on how these cuts may affect the future of those sites will come in a later post.
Fellow Telecommunities Canada member Eric Stackhouse, Nova Scotia CAP Association Chair, asks: “How can we have accomplished the objective of connecting Canadians to the Internet when all our usage numbers are the same as they always were, or increasing? We send these numbers to them yearly, so they know that”. Stackhouse explains that officials at Industry Canada don’t seem to understand what the objectives were. “I know, I was there when the Program was first started. It was to connect Canadians to the Internet and technology but also to train them in its use so they could benefit from it. The access is still needed, the numbers show that, and as anyone knows, technology is constantly changing and you need new skills each and every day.” He points to such groups as seniors and older workers as particularly vulnerable and who need skills to do everything from day to day banking, contacting the Federal Government, finding the right tax forms, or learning how to connect with their families.
“As far as prioritizing expenditures” Stackhouse continues, “the Federal Government saved billions in civil service salaries when it transferred almost all of its services from in-person to online; this was successful due in no small part to the minor amount of money provided to CAP. We act as the local access point where people can get help. Government web sites still say, if you need access or assistance, go to a CAP site. Now Government want others to cover that cost.” $650,000 is received from Industry Canada each year, far less than was originally received back in the 1990’s.
The Association is particularly disappointed in the way the Federal Government chose to make this announcement. Volunteers, community members, and staff, who have worked hard over 17 years to help fellow citizens were informed by form letter, late in the evening before Good Friday, their efforts were not needed. The Association has asked numerous times in the past two years to speak with Industry Canada representatives about the future of CAP but no replies were received.
How might this affect Muskoka? MCAP operates sites around Muskoka. One is at the Torrance Community Center where you can see young people surfing the Internet on mobile devices outside when the center is closed and using the computer station provided inside when the center is open. CAP equipment was also provided to the Muskoka Lakes Chamber of Commerce. With caps on data usage and the risk of wireless hotspots ending or only available at significant user cost, this is a blow to Muskoka, socially, economically and environmentally. Many questions remain unanswered, such as 'will the government remove the equipment?'. This may not happen but if you are like me, and you have loaned equipment to CAP sites, better make sure you can reclaim it should this happen. Meantime, we have to keep sites like the one in Torrance open as there are still few affordable Internet choices, if any, available for users. Seasonal residents also depend on this site.