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					               Funding for elearning dropped by Industry Canada and Telco’s
                                     By Rory McGreal
                                   Athabasca University

A consortium of Bell and Rogers, that owns the Inukshuk wireless bandwidth is dropping out of
its obligation to support education in Canada. Historically, this 2500 - 2690 Mhz wireless
bandwidth was designated for educational use in Canada and internationally and is considered to
be especially useful for downloading data with cellular phones.

In 1999, a deal was struck permitting Inukshuk to use this band for commercial purposes, on the
understanding and obligation that the company would create Learning Plans, which would fund
elearning-related activities across Canada ($50 000 or 4% of revenues or double the licensing fee,
whichever is greater).

André Tremblay, the former CEO of Inukshuk noted: "Inukshuk is proud to be part of this unique
public/private sector collaboration. Our Learning Plan was created to offer long-term, mutually
beneficial partnerships with learning communities, and to help answer requirements for on-line
learning content.”

Inukshuk was originally owned by Microcell and Look Communications, but was subsequently,
bought out by a consortium of Bell and Rogers. Industry Canada is now renewing the ten-year
license for this 2500 Mhz wireless spectrum, while dropping the carrier’s obligation to support
education. This is despite earlier assurances from Industry Canada that “learning communities
across Canada would benefit financially from the sale of the 2500 Mhz band”.

The different provincial Inukshuk Learning initiatives have contributed greatly to educational
institutions across the country. In Alberta, for examples multi-media pre-Calculus and palliative
care courses have been developed, along with other school and health-related lessons. Across
Canada there have been exemplary projects in distance education, Aboriginal education,
workplace training, emergency management, Arts education, High School lessons and many
others including a sign language dictionary for deaf students. In a time when education budgets
continue to shrink, the elimination of the Learning Plan program will have a serious negative
impact on education in Canada.

In the USA and other countries, this spectrum is still being heavily used for educational purposes.
With new mobile devices like the Blackberry, Kindle, iPhone and now the iPad, wireless
spectrum has become far more valuable. These new 3G and 4G (third and fourth
generation) devices that permit the use of multimedia on mobile devices, depend on robust
wireless networks that can process large amounts of data rapidly. The moneymaking
potential of 4G network services is immense, and it is unfortunate that in Canada, the
requirement of reserving a small part of this revenue stream to financially support educational
broadband use has been discontinued.

Industry Canada conducted a stakeholder consultation related to this change, while excluding the
participation of educators, who have every reason to expect that their views would be considered
before any substantive changes were made. The educational bandwidth was originally
surrendered to Inukshuk on the basis of a wide cross-country consultation with educators on the
use of this bandwidth, and only after the present Learning Plan program was put into effect. The
continuation of the Learning Plan program in perpetuity has always been a condition for holding
the bandwidth.

With the increasing use of mobile devices, wireless broadband is beginning to play an essential
role in delivering learning to Canadian students. Mobile learning is already becoming a reality, so
access to wireless bandwidth is becoming increasingly more urgent. With the decision to no
longer support education, Canadian progress in mobile learning will be seriously curtailed.
Canadian students lose not only the bandwidth that was reserved for them, but also the programs
that were guaranteed to support educational initiatives especially those for students-at-risk, and
those with disabilities.

Furthermore, educators’ experience with Inukshuk over the last ten years, has demonstrated that
they have not fully lived up to their original commitment to support education. As an example,
they subtly exempted wholesale sales to their affiliates from the Learning Plan revenue
commitments, effectively funneling huge sums of money away from the Learning Plan program.
They also did not live up to their commitment to provide educational institutions with low-cost
high speed wireless bandwidth; nor did they create a Learning Portal and tools for learning as
promised.

Because of the growing needs for wireless bandwidth by educational institutions and the timidity
of Inukshuk in living up to its commitments, Industry Canada should consider not extending their
license, but rather, return the bandwidth to education as was the original purpose for this
spectrum. Ten years is a long time in the changing technology environment and whereas in 1999
educational institutions were not in a good position to take advantage of the available bandwidth,
today in 2010, the tools applications, devices and knowledge exist within many educational
institutions to make effective use of this educational wireless spectrum.

				
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