The Community Access Program (CAP) is an example of a community-based strategy for improving rural communities’ access to ICT services.
The CAP is an ongoing initiative that is administered by the ministry, Industry Canada. CAP aims to provide Canadians with affordable public access to the Internet and the skills they need to use it effectively. With the combined efforts of the federal, provincial and territorial governments, community groups, social agencies, libraries, schools, volunteer groups and the business community, CAP helps Canadians take advantage of emerging opportunities in the new global knowledge-based economy.
Under CAP, public locations such as schools, libraries and community centres act as on-ramps to the Information Highway, and provide computer support and training. Canada has more than 8,000 CAP Internet sites, some of which form networks. A CAP network consists of a grouping of CAP sites (urban and/or rural) that share a common interest and purpose, and that are committed to work together in pursuit of common objectives with other partners. These may be Library Boards, School Boards, Boards of Trade, Economic Development Boards, Municipalities, Community Free Nets, Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC), Industry Canada and other federal and provincial departments and agencies. The number of CAP sites in each network varies.
CAP was launched in 1994, and its initial stages included the provision of funding for community sites and networks to provide public Internet access. The current stage of the programme has shifted its focus from funding new sites or networks to providing funding for existing CAP sites or networks that meet the new funding requirements. In addition, the programme’s CAP Youth Initiative provides employment opportunities to youth between the ages of 15 and 30 years at CAP sites across the country.
In 2005-2006, decisions to fund CAP projects were based on a competitive process that best met the criteria below. Funding was directed only towards the support of existing CAP sites that:
- met the operating requirements for CAP sites, including the requirements to be open to the general public, to provide training and assistance to users of the site, and to display signage identifying the public access centre as a CAP site;
- demonstrated that they provided access to digital divide populations, namely Canadians who did not have access to the Internet because of economic, social or geographic barriers. This identified low income Canadians, residents of rural areas, older Canadians, Francophones, Aboriginal Canadians, recent immigrants, and Canadians with limited education, as being less likely to use the Internet than the general population;
- supported the federal government's online service delivery objectives for initiatives such as Government on Line (GOL). CAP sites and networks supported GOL through partnerships with government departments or by providing training and assistance to the public; and
- supported enhanced accessibility for people with disabilities.
The CAP programme proved that creating a network and combining resources could provide a higher level and quality of access to information technology tools (computers, the Internet, etc.) than any one CAP site could do on its own. Further, there was a stronger likelihood that long-term sustainability of community access would be ensured.
An evaluation of the programme undertaken by Industry Canada in 2004 identified the following factors:
- CAP continued to be necessary and relevant because there was a digital divide in Canada. Moreover, CAP had been successful at bridging this gap in public Internet access and capability;
- For some segments of the population, the basic programme objectives of raising public awareness of ICT and helping to provide affordable public Internet access were less relevant than they were at the outset of the programme because much progress had been made in many communities;
- Significant progress was still required with ICT sensitization and training for many digital divide areas and groups;
- The programme objective of fostering online Canadian content and facilitating business activities such as e-commerce appeared not to have been met;
- Visitors to CAP sites were using them for a range of purposes in line with the programme’s objectives (e.g., e-mail, learning and training, job searches, accessing government services and information), and many CAP sites had been innovative in delivering these services;
- Effective partnerships were also established – this included federal-provincial/territorial partnerships as well as site-level partnerships with government, private and community organizations;
- Users were very satisfied with all aspects of the service at the sites, with the exception of the speed of Internet connections;
- Key informants believed that programme progress and success were facilitated by strong community support for CAP sites, partnerships and networks but impeded by some lack of funding (e.g., to keep up to date with changing technology, to meet specialized needs and to pay staff at the sites) and a shortage of human resources at sites. Volunteer burnout was widely regarded as a key challenge for CAP sites; and
- One-third of site representatives claimed that their site would cease to exist if there were no CAP funding, and one-half believed that they would need to offer fewer services if the CAP funding ended.
The available evidence indicated that CAP remained widely viewed as a cost-effective programme, providing numerous benefits for a small investment in sites (an average of approximately USD 4,412 per site). With government funding, many sites continued to leverage considerable financial and in-kind resources from other sources/partners (e.g., local and provincial/territorial government).
The CAP network model – which allowed bulk buying of equipment and sharing of best practices – also continued to contribute to cost-effective delivery, as did the heavy reliance on volunteers at sites (although this benefit diminished as volunteers burned out and needed to be replaced and retrained). Moreover, approximately 60 per cent of the sites surveyed had taken at least some steps to support their sustainability, in particular, by searching for alternate funding sources.
Sources: Community Access Program website: http://cap-pac.ic.gc.ca/pub/index.html “Evaluation Study Of The Community Access Program (CAP)”, Audit and Evaluation Branch – Industry Canada, January 16, 2004