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What’s up with the internet? Q&A with Takara Small

By Ana Itoafa
Communications Coordinator

”What’s up with the internet?”—it’s likely you’ve asked or heard this question, or a variation of it, throughout the many years the internet has been a central part of our lives. Why we ask this question has many reasons. It could be crawling internet speeds, growing cyber attacks making the headlines, internet policy changes, or countless other reasons. Every Canadian has a story to tell about their internet experience and this is what inspired us to explore the state of the internet in Canada through a serialized, weekly podcast hosted by Takara Small, award-winning Canadian tech journalist.

Takara’s connection to technology stems from personal roots, growing up in a small Canadian village where the absence of reliable internet was more than an inconvenience—it was a daily reality. Through candid interviews with tech innovators and accessibility advocates, Takara brings to light the challenges many people face in order to paint a broader picture of Canada’s internet. We caught up with Takara to learn more about her passion around the internet, what we can expect from the first season of CIRA’s What’s up with the internet? podcast and more.

Can you tell us more about your background and why this podcast hits so close to your heart?

I’m a tech writer and have been covering technology for a while. You can hear me talk about tech on CBC, the BBC or 640 AM. I’ve hosted shows and written stories with Sony, the Globe and Mail and more. My career has been spent looking at how tech shapes, morphs and influences our world. People talk about how critical technology is for our lives but ignore the inconvenient bits—like the fact that to use it, we need reliable internet access.

It’s also important to know that I grew up in a small town. Well, technically a “village” according to Statistics Canada because it has a population of less than 500. Trust me when I say that I know what it’s like to live without reliable internet access and talking about this subject felt a little too close for comfort. The internet is used for studying, working and even accessing healthcare. But when you’re in a rural town, you can’t access that readily by visiting your neighbourhood library or local hotspot. For many, public transit is nonexistent and driving somewhere to pay your bills or have a video call with colleagues isn’t always possible.

Why do you think it’s important to discuss this topic? During the making of this podcast, what have been the most common barriers to internet access you’ve discovered?

I think that many Canadians assume WiFi access is a given or that the average Canadian can find a way to access it if they really, really need it.

Media organizations, political groups and healthcare providers tell individuals every day to ‘go online’ for more information, but for too many people, that’s an impossible task or requires so much bandwidth that they wouldn’t be able to do very much online after.

We view internet accessibility as a problem that plagues people in developing countries, because it’s all too often viewed as an embarrassment or a personal failing if someone doesn’t have it at their disposal.

In fact, I struggled with scheduling time with interviewees who would have to travel up to an hour to a local hotspot to record an interview. All they needed was one incident that was out of their control—a sick child, bad weather or tech issues—to force us to reschedule.

Are there any stereotypes or issues that you want to put to bed about this discussion?

Yes! A big one is that there is a rural vs. urban battle when it comes to accessibility. There’s this belief that if you’re in a big city, you have access to the best WiFi and shouldn’t complain. As someone who has lived in both a rural town and the largest city in Canada—and has covered this issue for work—I can confidently say that this is a cross-country issue that impacts people differently on both sides but leads to the same outcome: a lack of access.

Throughout this series I’ve talked with people living in city centers who have “dead spots” or people who can’t afford data because the cost to rent in major urban areas is so high. The pandemic raised the stakes in a very public way, but this problem has been kicking around for decades! Both groups suffer from the same problem in different ways, so I hope that people understand we’re in this together.

How do you stay hopeful and motivated when discussing the ongoing struggles presented by the digital divide in Canada?

Wow, how much time do I have to answer this? I think seeing that communities are creating their own solutions—such as building their own infrastructure—keeps me optimistic.

How has your perspective on internet access evolved since you started this project?

I’ve always known how massive the digital divide is in Canada and how it contributes to a wealth of problems, so my perspective hasn’t really evolved. But What’s up with the internet? did introduce me to people who are trying to solve these issues within and outside of the government, so I’m slightly more optimistic.

At the risk of sounding like a Hallmark greeting card, it’s important to emphasize that hope is like a muscle: to stay optimistic, you need to continually be working for a better tomorrow and seeing some type of movement forward.

What story or experience left a lasting impact on you in the making of the podcast? What message or key takeaway do you hope your listeners gain from engaging with this podcast on internet connectivity in Canada?

I don’t want to give too much away, but there is a conversation with an accessibility advocate who is literally building infrastructure—something you would expect the big providers to do—to give internet access to residents on the West Coast. It’s a model that has found success in other countries and that, if anything, should showcase that there are local solutions people can implement. Is it the perfect solution? No, not every community can do this on their own. But it’s something.

Ready to uncover the untold stories of Canada’s internet? Episode one of What’s up with the internet is now available on all your favourite streaming platforms.


About the author
Ana Itoafa