In a further move to bolster its drive to Canada one of the most wired nations on earth, the federal government unveiled a new Internet portal this week geared toward business. This follows on the heels of the launch of a redesigned site to serve the general public. Industry minister Brian Tobin heralded BusinessGateway.ca as a way to deliver services and information in a more logical and timely fashion. It provides data on regulations, selling to government, business statistics and other important information. Earlier prime minister Jean Chrétien kicked off the Canada Site. It provides links to various government departments and agencies, as well as handy information such as how to obtain passports and social insurance cards. Not only is the government making itself known on the Internet, it is actively seeking ways to give Canadians increased access to networks. The CRTC, in its Decision 99-16 on remote service, included dial-up access to the Internet in its definition of basic telephony service. Now the feds are suggesting they should change that to include broadband access. The National Broadband Task Force is currently examining the issue and is expected to make its recommendations to the government by this spring (NL, Oct 23/00; Jan. 15/01). The 36-member committee held its second monthly meeting in Ottawa last week as work in its smaller components continues. The task force is divided into four smaller working groups. Three of those subcommittees have released background papers looking into the issues facing the industry and the country as we move towards the federal government’s goal of extending access to broadband by 2004. That is a necessary aim, according to a new report from NFO Interactive Canada. Its recently released study says that one million Canadian households are planning to upgrade from dial-up connectivity to some form of broadband.  Currently dial-up represents 59 per cent of the home market for Internet service, while cable, DSL and T1 and T3 collectively hold a 34 per cent share. But NFO Interactive Canada predicts broadband will overtake dial-up by the middle of this year.  The survey found 20 per cent of dial-up modem users plan to upgrade to high-speed access within the next six months. Six of ten broadband subscribers reported getting the system in 2000.NFO Interactive Canada polled 2,296 adults online last November. The survey is considered accurate within plus/minus 2.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20. Canada at present ranks as number two in a study of international connectivity (see table). Our expertise is being exported around the world. The chair of the Task Force, David Johnston of the University of Waterloo, is taking part in the Team Canada junket to China currently underway. Working groups report While the country’s connectivity appeal is global, concerns arise about the ability to deliver services to all Canadians. The Task Force has four working groups that are exploring issues that could affect the provision of access. Three of them have released background papers on their particular area of concern. The social benefits group found five applications for broadband backbone: learning and skills; health; government; Canadian content and culture; and community access and nation-building.It warns that merely deploying the fibre will not alleviate all of the problems. The digital divide still separates those connected to the Internet and those outside. The subcommittee cites the work of Andrew Reddick of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, who warns of the dual nature of the digital divide. On one side, Reddick says, there are those who wish to be connected but cannot due to income, distance or education. On the other side of the chasm are those who are unconnected and have little or no interest in changing the situation. According to the economic benefits working group the deployment of broadband is essential for economic development. The subcommittee says it will contribute to the survival and prosperity of small town, suburbs and rural areas. This will, in turn, allow young people to stay in their hometowns rather than leave to seek challenging and well-paid work elsewhere. Regional development will thus be stimulated. This also has a social benefit, according to the members of the social considerations group. Extension of broadband services allows communities to develop and prosper, the subcommittee finds. It gives people the opportunity to stay in their home areas and to participate in their communities. The urban-rural divide is likely to be lessened as connectivity looms. All four working groups are continuing their efforts and funneling their research up to the full task force. The next meeting of the task force is scheduled for March 8. One community that has already taken an active role in building a condominium network is Fredericton NB. It released details of its planned community network late last month. "The demand seems to be in favour of community connectivity rather than privately owned fibres," the project report states. Phase one consists of the fibre build, which the city expects can be achieved through purchase or swapping existing fibres from established carriers. It is scheduled to be completed by the end of this summer. Connections will be made between Fredericton’s Knowledge Park and the University of New Brunswick. A link to the CA*net3 line from CANARIE Inc is also likely. Later on the city hopes to institute fibre to the home in certain neighbourhoods. Phase two, due for completion next year, involves equipment acquisition. Fredericton is currently negotiating with several suppliers to determine if a partnership can be struck. If this cannot be achieved, the city will issue a call for tender. The one uncertainty is who will actually run the network.  Negotiations are scheduled, but the project report does raise the possibility of UNB or the city itself managing the network. City staff suggest any such move would be a temporary measure.