Final Evaluation of the Community Access Program
5.0 Summary of Key Findings
The key findings pertaining to continued need of the program found that access to the internet in Canada has increased considerably since CAP was created. Ninety-four percent (94%) of Canadians now live in a community where broadband access is available for purchase. Virtually all urban households and seventy-eight percent (78%) of rural households had access to broadband service by the end of 2008. The evaluation also found that internet use has increased from almost all locations between 1999 and 2007, as an estimated eighty-five percent (85%) of Canadians now use the internet on a regular basis. The number of Canadian households using the internet has increased from sixteen percent (16%) in 1997 to approximately seventy-four percent (74%) in 2008.
Despite increases in access to and use of the internet, however, 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. Moreover, the Canadian Internet Project has reported that by the end of 2007, twelve percent (12%) of Canadians have never used the internet. This suggests that there may always be a portion of the population who may never use the internet.top of page
A review of program relevance in relation to Government of Canada and Industry Canada priorities has found that the program is less aligned with the current priorities of the Federal Government and the department than it once was. CAP has always held affordable public access to the internet as one of its core objectives. While the Federal Government views broadband internet access as essential infrastructure, it is now emphasizing private sector development and access by households, rather than public access. In addition, budget reductions and shorter renewals also suggest that CAP is less of priority than it once was. Program funding has fallen steadily from a high of $64 million in 1999–2000 to its current level of $15 million, while the program has only been granted one-year renewals since 2006–2007.
The evaluation has also found that CAP is less aligned with Industry Canada priorities. An historical review of the Department's Reports on Plans and Priorities found that it has steadily reduced its focus on individual skills development, long a part of CAP programming. While aspects of Industry Canada's legislation and mandate partially support the objectives of increased access to and use of the internet, the most recent Extending Broadband initiative shifts focus away from public access sites. Moreover, Industry Canada staff were split on whether CAP aligned with the priorities of the department. In the main, Industry Canada's current priorities tend to emphasize household access through the development of broadband infrastructure, rather than public access at the community level.top of page
Regarding the success of the program at achieving its immediate outcomes, it was found that CAP has been successful at funding and maintaining public internet access sites. CAP sites have been located mostly in libraries, community centres and schools, with sixty-eight percent (68%) of CAP sites located in rural, northern and remote communities, including three percent (3%) on First Nations reserves. On the other hand, the most recent analysis of CAP site data (July, 2009), estimated that approximately sixty-eight percent (68%) of CAP sites are located within a twenty-five kilometer radius to other public internet access sites, while only thirty-two percent (32%) of CAP sites are not. Forty-two percent (42%) of CAP sites in rural areas do not have alternate public internet access within a twenty-five kilometer radius while the figure is much lower in urban areas, with only eight percent (8%) of CAP sites without alternate public internet access within a twenty-five kilometer radius. The same survey also found that approximately forty-seven percent (47%) of CAP sites have broadband connectivity (at least 1.5 Mbps) while fifty-one percent (51%) reported having high speed. The remainder, approximately three percent (3%) of CAP sites, reported offering only dial-up service.
CAP has also demonstrated some success at providing access and training to demographic groups thought to be a part of the digital divide. Based on user survey and self-reported data, digital divide groups who have tended to use CAP sites include those with low income, lower levels of education, and those without home access to the internet and the unemployed. Key informants however, offered differing views. While a majority of key informants noted success of the program in this regard, a few suggested that much of the success was achieved in the early years of the program and that little new progress has been made in recent years to those most affected by the digital divide.
While access to and use of the internet has continued to increase, attribution to CAP activities could not be fully established. Regarding access, most key informant interviewees agreed that CAP has contributed to demand for IT/Internet among Canadians, but more substantive evidence to support this opinion was unavailable. Regarding internet use, self-reported program data from 2008 has indicated that training accessed at CAP sites has emphasized internet skills development and use of a variety of online services, with using internet/web searching, basic computer use, using email and finding government services online being the most popular training offered. What is known more generally is that the number of hours spent online each week by Canadians has continued to increase from an average of 11.9 hours in 2004 to an average of 18.8 hours in 2007.
The ultimate outcomes intended by CAP activities have included strengthened Information Communications Technology (ICT) infrastructure, knowledge and use. Compared to other countries, Canada has fallen from 2nd place to 10th place in terms of broadband penetration since 2003. This ranking is in part a reflection of the sharp increases seen in countries such as Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland and others. Moreover, Canada is currently ranked 25th among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries in terms of advertised broadband speeds offered by service providers. Finally, the Atlantic Provinces, Quebec and Nunavut continue to experience lower than average internet access and use rates, in part, due to lagging infrastructure development.top of page
The program appears to have been run cost-effectively in a number of respects. Administrative and self-reported data suggests that CAP has been successful at leveraging funds from other sources. Although the amounts leveraged by jurisdiction vary, a review of CAP administrative data has found that the program has leveraged just over $14.2 million from MOA partners since 2005–2006, representing 110% of the Industry Canada contribution of just over $12.9 million. In addition, sites from all provinces and territories reported in 2008 that they leveraged an average total cash funding of $14,880 from all sources, as well as $11,963 of in-kind funding, while the average Industry Canada contribution was $4,994. It was also reported that forty-seven percent (47%) of a site's cash funding came from the combination of municipal government and host organization funding.
The evaluation also found that the ratio of Operating Expenses to Grants and Contributions (Gs&Cs) steadily declined between 2005–2006 and 2008–2009. While Gs&Cs have fallen by eighteen percent (18%) since 2005, operating expenses have fallen by sixty-eight percent (68%). In 2005–2006, the ratio stood at .289; by 2008–2009, the ratio had fallen to .115.
A 2005 cost-benefit study calculated that the program's benefits slightly outweighed its costs with an estimated ratio of 1.06. The study conducted a comparison of five Information Highway Applications Branch programs active at the time. They included the Broadband Program, Computers for Schools, First Nations School Net, Smart Communities and the Community Access Program. The study used data collected between 1994–1995 and 2004–2005, just prior to the reduction in the number of CAP sites in the 2003–2005 period. It was also found that CAP had the lowest benefit-cost ratio of the five programs included in the analysis.
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