Community Access Program chopped

August 27, 2012

 This story originally appeared on VoicesVoix.ca  -- August 16, 2012

 The Community Access Program (CAP), was created by Industry Canada in 1995 to provide free or low-cost access to Internet in rural regions of Canada. CAP operated in over 3,000 sites across Canada, offering computer literacy trainings and Internet-user skills in public libraries and community centers. It has provided access to Internet for youth, seniors, members of low-income communities and residents of rural and remote regions.

What Happened

On April 5, 2012, Industry Canada sent a letter announcing that funding for the Community Access Program (CAP), amounting to about $15 million, was scheduled to end on March 31, 2012 and would not be renewed. Industry Canada stated that in the context of "challenging fiscal times," funding for CAP was terminated because the program had "successfully achieved its objective." However, the digital divide in Canada has been proven to persist and library associations and community centers that operated CAP have decried the funding cuts.

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In 2010, CAP operated in 3,785 sites across Canada and received about $15 million from the federal government. CAP provided Internet access in 149 locations in Newfoundland and Labrador; 540 in Ontario; 209 in Nova Scotia; 34 in Prince-Edward Island; over 400 in Manitoba; approximately 400 in Saskatchewan; 287 in Alberta; 135 in British Columbia; and 20 in Nunavut.

On April 5, 2012, Industry Canada sent a letter declaring that funding for CAP was terminated as of March 31.

Eric Stackhouse, Chairman of the Nova Scotia CAP Association, told the CBC he "had hoped that we would have some discussion before they made that decision, but as they've done in the past, they simply sent out letters."

Besides "challenging fiscal times," the justification provided in the letter was that, according to Industry Canada, CAP "has successfully achieved its objectives."

Stackhouse added that "they say it's achieved its purpose, but they never say what that purpose was."

Several sites will have to close while others, such as Nova Scotia's CAP, will remain open thanks to large financial contributions from the provincial government, municipalities and libraries.

Industry Canada indicated that the CAP YI (Youth Initiative) program would continue to receive funding. Industry Canada explains that it will continue to support 1,500 Youth Employment Strategy (YES) internships at Internet access sites, in an effort to help youth transitioning into the workforce.

Digital divide persists

In explaining the 2012 funding cuts, the Director of Communications for Industry Canada, Margaux Stastny, reportedly said that "the vast majority of Canadians are now connected to the internet at home, while many more have access through their mobile devices."

However, according to a June 2011 report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 20% of Canadian households do not have access to the Internet.

In addition, the 2010 Internet Use Survey by Statistics Canada provides more detailed information on the digital divide. It found that 97% of Canadians in top income quartile ($87,000 or more) had access to Internet at home, while only 54% of Canadians in the lowest income quartile ($30,000 or less) had access to Internet in their household.

For 24% of those in the lowest income quartile, the cost of equipment or service was the main reason for not having an Internet connection at home.

Moreover, Industry Canada itself, in its 2010 Final Evaluation of the Community Access Program noted that while access to and use of Internet had increased with CAP, "the digital divide continues to persist in Canada among a number of demographic groups including Canadians in rural and remote communities, low income earners, those with low levels of literacy and education, francophones over 50 years of age, seniors and others."

For people who cannot afford connectivity to Internet and computer equipment, who do not have the skills to use such technology, or who live in rural or remote areas, CAP sites were their only point of access to the digital world.

"Objective achieved" ?

With increased digitization of government services and the multiplication of services and forms delivered online, CAP was providing the necessary access and assistance for Canadians to use such services.

Filing taxes, for instance, is now done online and governmental departments often refer citizens to websites for more information. Stackhouse told the CBC that CAP sometimes helped Revenue Canada volunteers to complete tax forms for members of low-income communities, for example at the New Glasgow library. He commented "so we're helping Revenue Canada get its job done. To say it's achieved its goal, to me it's just mind-boggling."

Karen Adams, President of the Canadian Library Association, decried the cuts and explained that not only does the digital divide persist, but "CAP programs provide much more than connected computers." According to Adams, without the computer literacy that CAP provides as well as the access to Internet, "disadvantaged groups would not be able to benefit from the ability to connect with information and services essential to their well being, including online banking, tax compliance and benefits, connecting with their families, and remote health services."

 Reactions from the public

In April 2012, the Nova Scotia CAP Association launched the website SaveCAP.ca to centralize letters to Members of Parliament (MPs) and Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs), and to gather news articles and press releases relating to the CAP funding cuts.

Several provincial library associations have decried the cuts to the CAP, with press releases available on the Save CAP website.

Relevant Dates: 

 1995: The Community Access Program (CAP) is launched.

 1997: CAP YI (Youth Initiative), supported by the Youth Employment Strategy (YES) is launched.

 May 15, 2010: Industry Canada publishes its Final Evaluation of the Community Access Program.

 May 25, 2011: Statistics Canada publishes its 2010 Internet Use Survey report, finding that while 97% of Canadians in top income quartile have access to Internet at home, this is true of only 54% of Canadians in the lowest income quartile.

 March 31, 2012: Funding for CAP is terminated.

  April 5, 2012: Industry Canada sends a letter announcing that funding for CAP is not renewed, taking effect as of March 31, 2012.

 April 2012: The Nova Scotia CAP Association launches the website SaveCAP.ca to coordinate letters to MPs and collect open letters decrying the funding cuts.

 Implications and Consequences

  Democracy: Access to information and an informed citizenry are two essential aspects of a healthy democracy. With CAP points of access closing, seniors, youth and members of low-income communities will be marginalized from Canada's online life and their ability to access information will be dramatically reduced. The closure of CAP sites is also the loss of opportunity to search for jobs, learn new digital skills, stay connected to family and friends, and take part in their local communities.

Equality: Canada's governmental departments and services are increasingly digitalized. A program such as CAP seems to be a necessary complement to this direction the government has taken, in order to ensure fairness and equality in access to online services for all Canadians.

Equality: As an alternative to CAP sites that would be closing in certain communities, Industry Canada suggests to users that many local public libraries may offer Internet access. However, because of the large cuts to Library and Archives Canada announced in the Budget 2012, many smaller community libraries and archives centers across the country must reduce opening hours and face serious budget challenges, making it difficult for them to provide access to Internet as CAP did.

Equality: The fact that the government announced termination of CAP taking effect immediately leaves CAP sites without an alternative for funding. While some CAP sites were supported by other partners and may be able to remain open, many other sites will have to close as they relied almost entirely on federal funding for the program and are for the most part run by volunteers.

Date published: 16 August 2012

Sources

"Final Evaluation of the Community Access Program: Executive Summary," Audits and Evaluations, Industry Canada, 15 May 2010

"Canadian Internet Use Survey 2010," Statistics Canada, 25 May 2011

"The Future of the Internet Economy: A Statistical Profile," OECD, June 2011

"2010-11 Annual Report," Manitoba E-Association, August 2011

Community Access Program (CAP) Termination Letter by Industry Canada, Scribd, 5 April 2012

"Ottawa cuts CAP public web access funding," CBC News, 6 April 2012

"Nova Scotia CAP Association launches SaveCAP.ca website and asks for help from MPs and MLAs," SAVE CAP, 10 April 2012

Open Letter to Industry Canada from Karen McGrath, President of the Community Access Program, Ontario Library Association, 11 April 2012

"Community Access Program (CAP) in Saskatchewan Building Stronger Communities through Technology," Open Letter by Saskatchewan CAP Program, 11 April 2012

"Canadian Library Association Dismayed at Cancellation of Community Access Program," SaveCAP, 12 April 2012

"Frequently Asked Questions," Youth Internships, Industry Canada, 16 April 2012

"Budget Cuts a Blow to Internet Access in Libraries," Press Release by the British Columbia Library Association, 16 April 2012

"Feds' Quiet Cut to Community Web Access Program," by Michael Geist, The Tyee, 17 April 2012

"Funding for Community Internet Access Centres Cut," by CBC News, 19 April 2012

"LAA Open Letter on CAP Funding Cut," Library Association of Alberta, 22 April 2012

"Province continues CAP public web access funding," by CBC News, 27 June 2012

Home. SAVE CAP, 9 August 2012

"Press Releases," SAVE CAP, 9 August 2012

"Online Forms and Services by A to Z," Government of Canada, 9 August 2012

"About CAP," Community Access Program Newfoundland and Labrador, 16 August 2012

"CAP Google Map," Ontario Youth Internships (YI) at Community Access Sites 2012-2013, 16 August 2012

"Our Locations," Prince Edward Island's Community Access Program, 16 August 2012