Halifax InView | Interview: Andrew Wright, Chebucto Community Net

Politics & Opinion
Chebucto Community Net wireless antenna

Chebucto Community Net is a non-profit internet access provider. At ten bucks a month (or completely free, for a basic text-based internet access), Chebucto Community Net is the most accessible point of internet access for those with low income in this community (see the end of this post for a picture of the actual hardware that runs this service).

This weekend I chatted with Andrew Wright, the only staff member at Chebucto Community Net. Listen to the interview to hear about the history of the internet in Nova Scotia (and of the computer sciences division at Dalhousie University), the woes the organization has faced in terms of cooperation with various levels of government and “the internet duopoly” in the province, and the guiding principles that keeps Chebucto Community Net going.

Also hear about some of the hopes that the organization has to one day be able to provide high speed access at these same accessible rates, and the potential for free wireless access to all public pages (government, universities, hospitals, etc) wherever the network can reach — if only they could find the funding.

Listen with flash here (30:31):

Or click here if you’re on an iPhone/iPad for a non-flash version.

UPDATE: You may have heard Andrew talking about “CAP losing its funding” in the interview. Story on that here.

Read on for some notable quotables.

On the “digital divide”:

“The digital divide here in Nova Scotia largely is senior citizens.”

“We found that the line is ten dollars per month. If you’ve got internet access and you’re charging more than ten bucks a month, then there’s a bunch of people who can’t afford that.”

“Something like one in five people in this community has no access at all, and that’s including access to public internet terminals. They tend to be in public buildings that have limited hours. If you have somebody who is working all day, they can’t get to it.”

“We were actually ahead of the game in the early part of this internet stuff. In the mid- to late- 1990’s Halifax was one of the most connected communities in Canada. We were literally number two at one point (in terms of) most number of citizens with internet access. But basically because of the duopoly between the two high speed providers, and complete and utter inertia on the part of the province, the municipality, and to a smaller degree the feds, we basically let slip the ground that we had.”

On the importance of public internet access:

“There should be a non-commercial access to the internet. It all shouldn’t be in the hands of the corporations, I think that’s important”

“Most people are using Gmail or Hotmail, where they’re reading your email, taking the information, taking it and selling it to literally thousands and thousands of entities all over the world. Here, your mail gets read by you and you alone. I think that’s an important thing.”

“The people who are left behind (without internet access), the corporations just don’t give a hoot because it’s not in their bottom line. And that’s another reason why we think it’s important that there’s a non-profit internet provider, because if it’s just in the hands of the corporations, someone’s going to get left behind. And then what happens? Do we just say, ‘okay, great, we’re going to have an information under-class’? Is that what the answer is?”

On why Chebucto Community Net keeps doing what it’s doing:

“We’re an accident of history that we’re here, that we’re on this network, that we’re able to do these things. If we were ever to go out of business, there’d be no reproducing what we’ve got here now. No one else could come along at a later date and set this up. If we go, this disappears. And that keeps me going.”

Chebucto Community Net is seeking board members. You don’t need to be technically savvy or know anything about the internet — all you need to be is “a person who supports the concept of community based non-profit Internet access and who is willing to commit some time and effort to ensuring that such a service continues to be offered through Chebucto in our own community.”

If you’d like to get involved, or would like to donate to Chebucto Community Net (they’re a registered charity, so donations are tax deductible), please contact Andrew.

Here’s what runs the whole service, hidden somewhere at Dalhousie University:

Listen to other Halifax InView interiews. I do them weekly!

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About the author

Avatar of Brenden Sommerhalder

Brenden Sommerhalder

Brenden is a writer, editor, researcher, and strategy guy. He also wanted more friends, so he founded Halifax Bloggers and ended up the CEO.