Is internet as vital as electricity?

BCNet’s 2017 opening keynote speaker, cybersecurity expert Robert Herjavec (yes, the guy from Dragons Den and Shark Tank) proposed that the internet has evolved to become as necessary as electricity. He put it more eloquently than this, but essentially, he believes that the internet will soon be everywhere on earth and connected to everything, to the point where we won’t even think about it, it will just be. This idea of ubiquitous connectivity became a running theme throughout the conference.

My guess is most of you reading this have constant access to the internet at home, at work, and on your mobile device. If the power goes out in your house, it feels the same as when you have no internet or cellular connectivity: confusion and a little (or a lot) of panic and frustration. We often don’t see how much we take advantage of these technologies until they aren’t there. The issue is, in our privilege, we forget that there are many people who never have the luxury of internet and even electricity.

The World Energy Outlook (WEO) estimates that 1.2 billion people (16% of the global population) – did not have access to electricity in 2016, and many more suffer from a supply that is poor quality.  In comparison, Internet Live Stats estimates that in 2016, there were over 3.4 billion internet users, which means that 4 billion people or 53.9% of the population do not have access to the internet.

Even in Canada, a highly developed country by most standards, over 200,000 individuals live in remote communities where access to affordable and reliable electricity remains a challenge. (It’s worth noting that all communities in Canada’s three territories qualify as remote, and not one is connected to the main North American electricity grid.) As for internet access, even with an estimated 32 million people, or 88.5% of the Canadian population online, there is still over 4 million people without access. But for those with access, these statistics don’t account for efficiency, reliability, speed and cost. As this article from Arctic Deeply on the Northwest Territories notes: just because on paper you have access, that doesn’t mean it is entirely useful or affordable.

In light of the CRTC’s declaration that broadband internet access should be deemed a basic telecommunications service, renewed focus has been placed on existing technology and connectivity gaps in Canada. While many of us enjoy internet that is nearly equal in our lives to the experience of electricity, we would be remiss to forget that others, even in our very own country, do not share this experience. We should all strive to make changes so they can enjoy it as much as we do.


* If you are interested in learning more about the technology gaps in Canada, and how to address them, the 2017 Cyber Summit will be focusing on the William Gibson’s quote: "The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed". For more information visit our Cyber Summit 2017 page