Recent years have cemented the importance of reliable and affordable high-speed internet, but some communities in Atlantic Canada are still cut off.
Through a new nationwide grant program, the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) aims to help communities across Canada bridge this digital divide. Announced in March, the Net Good program will provide more than $1 million to community-led projects to improve Internet infrastructure, online safety and political engagement.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve seen an increase in requests for connectivity,” said Maureen James, Program Manager, Community Investment at CIRA. “If there was anything you wanted to do when we couldn’t get together physically, virtually it was the only solution and so many communities were immediately cut off.
“Through our grants, we help provide a way for people who might otherwise be isolated to connect with their families, schools, healthcare providers and communities.”
While CIRA is best known as the organization that manages the .CA domain registry, the nonprofit organization offers a range of programs, resources, and services to improve Canada’s Internet – from expanding access to strengthening cybersecurity.
Each year, a portion of the proceeds from .CA domain registrations and renewals goes to CIRA’s annual grant program. Since 2014, CIRA has awarded $10.45 million in grants and helped fund 201 projects across Canada.
CIRA grants offer Canadians a unique opportunity to receive financial support for projects that help bridge digital gaps at the community level across Canada. Grants of up to $100,000 are available through the program.
“We particularly want to reach communities across Canada that are struggling with either internet connectivity issues or capacity and knowledge issues related to online safety,” said Maureen James, Program Manager of CIRA, Community Investment. PHOTO CREDIT: Contributed
While considering projects that benefit all Canadians, CIRA’s scholarship program is specifically focused on projects that benefit students and rural, First Nations and Northern communities.
Potential applicants include non-profit organizations, registered charities, academics at Canadian universities and colleges, and indigenous communities. Applicants are encouraged to submit their applications before the April 12 deadline at 2:00 p.m. ET.
“We specifically want to reach communities across Canada that are either struggling with internet connectivity issues or with capacity and knowledge issues related to online safety,” says James.
James notes that many applications in the past have come predominantly from urban areas in central Canada. She says this year CIRA hopes more communities in the Maritimes will apply.
She also encourages applicants to apply early so CIRA can screen them for eligibility or report missing information before the deadline.
The Net Good program will focus on community investments in three key areas: infrastructure, including connectivity research and critical infrastructure projects; online safety, including projects to improve internet literacy and cybersecurity; and political engagement.
To date, CIRA has funded more than 200 community projects from coast to coast. In 2021, it contributed to BC’s Connected Coastal Nations project and helped fund the development of local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) for nine First Nations communities.
On the other side of the country, CIRA helped fund much-needed mobile infrastructure in 2019 for the rural Francophone communities of Mainland and Three Rock Cove on Newfoundland’s Port au Port Peninsula. This community-led project has resulted in better internet connectivity on the Peninsula.
While CIRA grants help fund community-level digital initiatives, these projects can have far-reaching impacts. In 2018, CIRA contributed to New Brunswick Community College’s Critical Infrastructure Security Operations Center (CI-SOC). The center, created for the college’s students to receive cybersecurity training, is now also being used to teach regional K-12 students and industry partners how to navigate real-world scenarios.
In a world where cybercrime is rampant, James says this type of training is critical.
James says she is proud of the work CIRA is doing to give back to Canadian communities and would like to see organizations with more resources join the effort as demand is high.
From funding after-school online safety courses for students and parents throughout the PEI to supporting an internet literacy program for seniors and youth in the Kivalliq region of Nunavut, CIRA grants have improved the internet experience for communities across Canada.
“We’re one of the very few non-profit organizations in Canada doing this type of digital funding,” says James. “We want to build a trusted Internet for Canada and make Canada’s Internet a better place for everyone.”
To learn more about how to apply for a CIRA grant, please visit cira.ca/grants.