In the second of a two part series, Green Hectares looks at technology issues as part of our Rural Tech program and what type of impacts they can have for rural communities with the insight of James Van Leeuwen, an ICT consultant and owner of Ventus Development Services.
Rural people with capable, affordable Internet connections can be full participants in the global Digital Economy, delivering all kinds of information products and services from wherever they live, says James Van Leeuwen, strategic Information & Communication Technology (ICT) consultant and entrepreneur. However, many areas of the province of Alberta still don’t have decent access to the Internet.
There are several barriers to good service:
1. Affordability - “If you can’t afford it, you don’t have it,” he says.
2. Accessibility - “If you can access it from home and office, you’re covered.”
3. Capability - ”Rural people need the same capabilities as metro Canadians.”
4. Reliability - “It needs to be there when you need it to be there,” he said.
There is a strong need to build ICT leadership in rural communities, but not much funding for it yet, James says. He has been collaborating with Green Hectares and other rural development groups to flesh out the framework for PICTURE (Putting Internet Communication Technology to Use in Rural Economies), a concept for an initiative to support rural communities building their leadership capacities related to ICT.
James believes proper access to the Internet opens access to of education and employment opportunity for rural youth, enabling them to learn and prosper in their own communities. Individuals and businesses can use ICT to create employment opportunities and be more productive. One of the things James does is help people discover what kind of services they can access from within their own communities, including health, education and commercial services.
This could mean diversifying on-farm income in a multitude of ways. For example, people can provide a host of technical support and consulting services from the farm, if they have proper access to the internet. “There are hundreds of thousands of people across North America doing this kind of work right now, and millions overseas” he said. “There is no good reason why it couldn’t be done from a farm in rural Alberta.” Solid, long term community leadership is essential for the implementation of an ICT strategy in a rural community. James thinks rural Alberta is positioned to lead in the global digital economy and has exciting prospects for the future, thanks in large part to the Alberta Government’s visionary investment in the Supernet.