Who has the bandwidth?

The internet is getting slower right at the moment that we need it the most. According to The Financial Post, Canadians are online more than ever before, and for longer periods. It’s put a strain on our internet infrastructure, putting the brakes on upload and download speeds across the country. That’s not good news for online education, particularly at a time when millions of students are expected to complete courses online. 

Selwyn (2010) writes that “the use of technology in education needs to be understood in societal terms.” I posit that this moment in time allows us to experience one of society’s issues of inequity: internet access. Internet access is the basis of online learning. How can you learn online, if you are not online? We are studying learning and technology, and are in the midst of critiquing online learning events. When we meet virtually, we see each other’s faces (and cats) via video connection. We seamlessly share our writing and research through Google Docs. We are in a place of digital privilege; and from this vantage point we survey and assess the world of online learning. However, not all Canadians are fortunate enough to ascend to these digital heights. 

According to a 2019 report from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, 37% of rural households had access to high-speed internet. The situation is even worse when we look at households in Indigenous communities: only 24% have access to high-speed connectivity. Those numbers are all the more stark when you consider that in urban areas, 97% of the population has access to services that offer 50 mb/s of download speed and 10 mb/s of upload speed. 

This is not just a tech support issue; this is a societal issue. How would our approach to designing learning systems change if our internet accessibility was downgraded? I think of the use of embedded video and live streaming as a staple of online education. How much does the use of video media exclude large swaths of learners from accessing learning opportunities? Is live streaming a luxury that excludes learners? How do we reconcile the enriched learning experience of video and live streaming with the fact that using these media may exclude disadvantaged learners from participating in our learning event? 

As more and more of us experience slower internet speeds, will we be able to empathize with the millions of Canadians who are challenged by substandard internet connectivity? As I dismay over my tortuously slow download speeds, I realize that this may be a learning opportunity.


Selwyn, N. (2010), Looking beyond learning: notes towards the critical study of educational technology. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26: 65-73. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2729.2009.00338.x

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. (July, 2019) High-Speed Access for All: Canada’s Connectivity Strategy. Retrieved from: https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/139.nsf/eng/h_00002.html

Jackson, E & McLeod, J. (April 2020). My internet seems slow: How is the coronavirus affecting internet providers?. Financial Post. Retrieved from: https://business.financialpost.com/telecom/my-internet-seems-slow-how-is-the-coronavirus-affecting-internet-providers

7 thoughts on “Who has the bandwidth?

  1. Hi Jeff,
    Thank you for sharing your interesting thoughts!

    I truly appreciate the efforts of educators that are trying their best to help students transition to online learning amid the COVID-19 crisis, especially those who think of the less fortunate students with limited internet access.

    Everyone is entitled to an education, although we can’t do miracles and provide access to everyone, it is within our capabilities to at least try to design learning differently to include as many students as possible!

    This article talks about the efforts and recommendations of brown’s Office of Student and Employee Accessibility Services (SEAS) in addressing students’ access. They provide examples on how to design course objectives that can be achieved with low/high tech requirements, and they also address access barriers by providing access guidelines to manage learning materials provided to students. My favourite part is the Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) framework. It is a framework that promotes students’ conscious understanding of how they learn, a transparent assignment template based on TILT is also provided!

    Here is a link to the article: https://www.brown.edu/sheridan/inclusive-approaches-support-student-assignments-during-times-disruption

    1. Tala,
      Thank you very much for taking the time to share the Brown blog. It’s fascinating to read. It’s so encouraging to see an institution be forward-thinking and anticipate the challenges of students who only have access to low bandwidth. Their suggestions are innovative and show that they have spent time thinking this through. The strategies they recommend are illustrations that learning can be inclusive without sacrificing content.

  2. Jeff, it’s indeed interesting to see how the COVID-19 crisis is pushing digital issues to the forefront, as you point out. Most of us in well-serviced areas are relatively comfortable with what normally we have in terms of bandwidth. It’s when the supply is limited due to a crisis that it becomes an issue for us. Yet this limitation is ongoing reality for many others, during crises or “good times.” It’s unfortunate, but seemingly true, that it takes a crisis like this to expose us to the different levels of privilege in society, including access to education. This is a very relevant and timely topic and I’m glad you’re working on it and sharing what we might learn from it.

  3. Hi Jeff,

    Great topic, this is such a hot button issue right now!
    On one hand, I pay a premium for my high speed internet that is said to be the highest possible and yet, I am suffering on a daily basis. I have conference calls crash, delays on video chats, and don’t even get me started on my the quality when watching Netflix.

    I came across some interesting data when looking into the details surrounding internet usage during COVID. Individuals working from home has increased seven fold, from 7% to 52% (Tabish, 2020). This one statistic alone is massive.

    I found an interesting research paper on what internet means to education, the two main purposes for Internet use were identified: as a tool for student learning and as a tool for supporting instruction (Gibson, 2004, p. 573). I think we could all agree on these two purposes, but the statistic that really grabbed me was “…about 80 per cent of administrators and teachers reported that their ministry of education did not provide adequate infrastructure support for using the Internet in teaching” (Gibson, 2004, p. 576). Not having the right tools is one thing, but it’s more than just the tools, it should be about providing the ability to use the tools. It seems this is often the forgotten piece of the puzzle.

    Thanks for such a great post Jeff!



    Gibson, S., & Oberg, D. (2004). Visions and realities of internet use in schools: canadian perspectives. British Journal of Educational Technology, 35(5), 569–585.

    Tabish, J. (2020, April 14). New survey shows the number of Canadians working from home has grown seven-fold. Retrieved from https://www.cira.ca/newsroom/state-internet/covid-19-has-changed-everything-new-survey-shows-number-canadians-working

  4. Hi Jeff, your blog post leaves me with a lot to think about. There’s been ongoing discussions regarding equity already surrounding the use of internet before COVID-19. With the sudden push forcing the majority of the population to work at home and continue their education online, there’s been a huge strain on the network infrastructure. If we’re having bandwidth issues in places like Toronto, rural areas are definitely at a greater disadvantage.

    I wonder how many students who are trying to keep up with online learning are being left behind due to weak internet infrastructure in their communities. I believe that there will be a spike in conversations surrounding accessibility and accommodation in this area. As mentioned above in the comments, educational institutions need to realize their learners may have varying levels of internet access. As a result, designing the online experience in such a way that it incorporates high/low tech options is extremely important. It will be interesting to see how things unfold as there is still so much uncertainty surrounding the lasting impacts that COVID-19 will have.
    Thanks for sharing! – Eunice

  5. Hi Jeff,

    Great post and lots of great comments as well! Covid-19 has indeed pushed many issues surrounding social-inequities to the forefront. Technology and online learning are indeed no exception – perhaps even one of the hottest issues in inequities highlighted. I appreciated your take on how your internet speed, my internet speed, Leigha’s… and many other privileged users’ bandwidth has been reduced — AND how this could be a part of our learning experience about substandard internet connectivity — that many Canadians experience “at the best of times.”

    I appreciated the article that Tala shared, as well as the Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) framework that she shared! Always useful, but particularly during the ‘pivot’ to online learning that the Covid-19 pandemic has made necessary.

    I also really appreciated Leigha’s comment that included “…about 80 per cent of administrators and teachers reported that their ministry of education did not provide adequate infrastructure support for using the Internet in teaching” (Gibson, 2004, p. 576). Not having the right tools is one thing, but it’s more than just the tools, it should be about providing the ability to use the tools. It seems this is often the forgotten piece of the puzzle.” I couldn’t agree more, as an educator and edtech trainer, working to support teachers during this crisis has highlighted this ‘forgotten piece of the puzzle.’

    It seems this crisis has highlighted deficiencies in ‘bandwidth’ on many levels. Audrey Watters (2020) recently captured in her usual connected, frank, yet elegant style that:
    “It feels wrong to speculate about what education will look like on the other side of this pandemic as we are still very much at the beginning of it. And yet it feels negligent to let the privateers and the techno-solutionists control the narrative.
    It also feels impossible to grieve and organize. But grieve and organize we must” (para. 5-6). I believe there is so much that we can learn and plan to do differently from this crisis, starting with working to diminish the inequities in our society. This includes looking at internet access as a means to education for many marginalized communities, and other social issues that Selwyn (2010) implores us to investigate such as digital literacy skills, for learners and educators in our country.

    Thanks for sharing! Great post.



    Selwyn, N. (2010), Looking beyond learning: notes towards the critical study of educational technology. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26: 65-73. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2729.2009.00338.x

    Watters, A. (2020, April 26). HEWN, No. 346: Kick me under the table all you want. I won’t shut up – Fiona Apple [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://hewn.substack.com/p/hewn-no-346?utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=email&utm_source=copy

  6. Thank you for your post Jeff. Equitable access to broadband internet has become a more broadly visible topic thanks to Covid-19 and so many needing to adapt rapidly to remote learning and working.

    This discussion thread had a lot of great information. Tala thank you for sharing the Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) framework, it looks very interesting.

    I came across a project where the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission is looking to apply $750 million over the next five years to back “projects to build or upgrade access and transport infrastructure to provide fixed and mobile wireless broadband Internet access services in eligible underserved areas of Canada”(Canada, 2020). Hopefully, these projects and some additional funding will help close the digital divide.

    Government of Canada, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, & Crtc. (2020, June 1). Broadband Fund Closing the digital divide in Canada. Retrieved from https://crtc.gc.ca/eng/internet/internet.htm

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