Making Sense of Digital Inequalities in Remote Contexts: Conceptions of and Responses to Connectivity Challenges in the Northwest Territories, Canada

Rob McMahon, Murat Akcayir, Michael B. McNally, Sydonie Okheena


A large body of research focused on first-level digital divides in rural/remote contexts references structural factors including geography, market failure, limited infrastructure, policy gaps, and so on. It points out issues including access, affordability, reliability, and speed, but tends to overlook the perceptions and reactions of people living in these regions. Taking this observation as a starting point, this study investigates connectivity challenges—and responses to them—as experienced by residents of small-population, geographically dispersed communities in Northern Canada. Consistent with the paradox of telecommunications development in remote regions, we confirm that speed and cost remain primary challenges—despite desires for better connectivity. We also learned how Northern residents are innovating to address these challenges. Employing a network analysis, we argue that structural challenges reinforce one another in a dynamic spiral of digital inequality and propose support for nonprofit community networks (CNs) as one way to break this cycle.


digital inequality, digital inclusion, digital divide, Internet, Northern Canada, Indigenous peoples

Full Text: