Free public Internet access doesn’t appear to be threatened just yet at close to 20 sites around the South Okanagan, despite federal government cutbacks.
Industry Canada last week informed public service groups that it would not renew funding for its Community Access Program, which provides free computers and Internet access for public use at a number of places, including libraries and seniors’ centres.
It means the loss of a $50,000 contract for Okanagan Skaha School District 67, which administers the community access network at about a dozen locations in Penticton.
“It’s not great news for us,” SD 67 secretary-treasurer Ron Shongrunden told the board at its Monday night meeting.
For now, the district is continuing to provide service at the sites, including the Seniors’ Drop-In Centre in Penticton. Manager Glenda Ross said the three computers there are still available for public use, although the terminals only attract about 10 users per week.
For the Okanagan Regional Library system, which administers 21 CAP sites, including at branches in Naramata, Summerland and Okanagan Falls, discontinuation of the program means an $80,000 budget hit.
ORL executive director Lesley Dieno said that while the cut will have a “noticeable impact,” it’s unlikely computers will disappear from libraries, although wait times to use them will probably get longer.
No changes are expected to public computer access at the Penticton Public Library, which ceased to be a CAP site about five years ago and now provides the service on its own, said chief librarian Larry Little
According to the Industry Canada website, funding for CAP was not renewed because the program met its goal “to encourage participation in the knowledge-based economy by maximizing the accessibility of computers and the Internet at public access points, such as public libraries, across Canada.”
The program began in 1995 when only about 10 per cent of Canadian households had Internet access, a figure that reached 79 per cent in 2010, according to Industry Canada.
Sites that hosted CAP computers will still be able to apply for funding for youth internships to help with the machines, while people who used the computers to interact with government can still do so at 600 Service Canada locations across the country.
With files from Wade Paterson, Kelowna Capital News