Guest Post: Empowering Canadians through Fibre Optics: A Broadband Everywhere Project

Ted Hsu
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broadbandI think that investing in Canadian infrastructure will be an important issue in the 2015 election. We often think about roads, bridges, or buildings. But broadband internet infrastructure is important too, and here in Canada we are not world leaders…Ted Hsu

The following is a guest post from Martin Brooks [email protected]

There is an important inequality in Canada that has great implications for Canada’s economic future. It is the inequality in accessible bandwidth technologies.

“Bandwidth” refers to quantity of information that flows through a network. Today, Canadians access networks through wireless connections and through phone and cable TV wires. Many of us, particularly if we live in or near a major city, enjoy full access to the bandwidths that are provided by “high-speed” networks. However, many Canadians have access to only very limited quantities of bandwidth. The fact that rural and remote regions lack bandwidth is well known, and needs to be remedied.

However, there exists yet another level of bandwidth beyond today’s high-speed – namely, the VERY large bandwidth provided by fibre optic networks – and that this next level can be very beneficial to society. In an increasingly competitive world, fibre-optic bandwidth available to all Canadians at low or no cost (a public utility) would reap very large rewards.

The graph below shows Canada lags behind many countries in fibre connectivity most notably Japan, Korea, Sweden, Norway and even Estonia.


Of more concern is the rate of growth of large bandwidth which shows Canada is not closing the gap, indeed it is falling behind other countries. Among the fastest growing is Mexico, our trading partner and trading rival.


Fibre optic cables are not expensive, but installing them can be. However, it is not a high-tech endeavor; it is ditch-digging ! And where most developed it is a public utility.

Why is this band-width important? There is a powerful use that offers “visual communication” for purposes of group collaboration and problem solving. Examples exist from high- and middle-school education.

Today’s bandwidth supports “talking heads” quite well, but the cannot transmit high quality video showing the details of a room, with full person views, posters, charts, etc. If videoconference applications like Skype are used over a fibre optic network, then the video quality is similar to what we see today on our high-definition televisions. And this makes a big difference to how visual communication can be used.

By way of example, over the first decade of this century, workers at the Communications Research Centre and the National Research Council collaborated with educators across Canada to assess the value to youth of visual communication over fibre optic bandwidth. CANARIE provided project funding and the fibre optic networks. We found that the high-def. quality, large image size, and hi-fi audio enabled powerful forms of learning in which youth can develop the collaborative problem solving skills that they will need in future. The approach was to organize multiple school high-def videoconferences around controversial themes. The pedagogy was to empower youth to solve problems through multi-group collaboration and discourse, leveraging their diversity and supported by expert mentor validation. The network which included s school in the far north linked through Telesat, connected brains to brains! Students at each school prepared academically for each videoconference; all students participated – not just watching, but fully engaged and sharing their ideas, with an expert mentor providing guidance and encouragement. No lectures were involved; this was not remote teaching – it was group-to-group-to-group collaboration, led and carried out by students.  Among the topics covered (2006 school year)were: Cultural Stereotyping; Social and Ethical Issues in Information Technology: Aids in Africa: It’s Not Our Problem – Or Is It?; Stem Cell Research; Water – A Scarce Resource; Privatization of Healthcare; The Underground Railroad; Diet and Body Image; Climate Change: Impact on our Northern National Parks.

The following short video clips shows how you can empower youth via visual communication over fibre optic bandwidth.

I would like to hear what you think about the potential for bandwidth to change the world.


Stem Cell:

Aids in Africa:

Structures in Space:

Life on Mars:

Northern Parks, high school:

Northern Parks, middle school:

Kangiqsualujjuaq Community Concert:

Karen Kettler Throat Singing:

Barbara Reid Clay Art:

A Morning with Mozart:


As Canada faces the future, how we develop and harness the digital world of technology will be the difference between maintaining our prosperity and social progressiveness or whether we fall behind  and become a resource extraction backwater. A Broadband Everywhere Project, based on the best technologies will help ensure Canada`s future in a digital/knowledge based world.