Maggie Matear is the Director of Operations for the Northeastern Ontario Communications Network (NEOnet), a northern Ontario community-based network. She co-ordinates a non-profit strategic planning "gateway organization" for community capacity building in the information, communication, and technology (ICT) sectors. As advocates, facilitators, and educators, she and her team have a mandate to overcome the digital divide that separates this rural region from its urban counterparts. Her current priority is to ensure that northern communities have both the awareness and the infrastructure they need to benefit from applications such as videoconferencing, distance education, and telemedicine. Maggie is a member of the Ontario Community Access Program Task Force and sits on the region's Telecommunications Sectoral Steering Committee. Northeastern Ontario Communications Network, 2 - 70 Mountjoy Street, Timmins, ON P4N 4V7. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
In June 2001, Canada's Minister of Industry, Brian Tobin, released the findings of the National Broadband Task Force, a consortium of public- and private-sector stakeholders from across the country. Entitled The New National Dream: Networking the Nation for Broadband Access (National Broadband Task Force, 2001), the report advised the government on how best to achieve its goal of providing high-speed broadband access to all Canadians by 2004. It elaborated on the concept of a digital divide in Canada, and discussed the economic and social development opportunities inherent in universal connectivity. The high-profile report suggested a $1.3-billion price tag to establish equitable access to all communities.
The evolving global marketplace has exerted considerable pressure on Canadian businesses. Business-to-business (B2B) ecommerce is transforming traditional operational models, reducing costs for both the business and consumers. For example, using on-line "e-markets" to aggregate demand and negotiate better prices can result in cost savings of up to 39% for businesses and organizations (Goldman Sachs, 1999, p. 18). Suppliers of B2B products and services realize higher profits from increased operational efficiencies, better client relationships, and lower inventory costs. Although Canada ranks first in the world in Internet use (Internet Industry Alamanac, September 2000), on a per capita basis Canadian business owners are well behind their U.S. and European counterparts in establishing B2B initiatives (Goldman Sachs, 2001, p. 9). Investing in more infrastructure to ensure access--particularly in the remote areas that generate Canada's commodity products--may help close the gap.