Across Canada, rural and remote First Nations face a significant 'digital divide'. As self-determining autonomous nations in Canada, these communities are building broadband systems to deliver public services to their members and residents. To address this challenge, First Nations are working towards a variety of innovative, locally driven broadband development initiatives. This paper contributes a theoretical discussion that frames our understanding of these initiatives by drawing on the paradigm of the 'First Mile' (Paisley & Richardson, 1998). We argue that broadband development policy in Canada must be re-framed to address the specific needs of First Nations. The First Mile position foregrounds community-based involvement, control, and ownership: a consideration we suggest has particular resonance for First Nations. This is because it holds potential to move beyond the historical context of paternalistic, colonial-derived development policies, in the context of broadband systems development. We argue First Nations broadband projects offer on-the-ground examples of a First Mile approach, and call for more research in this area.


The authors would like to acknowledge and offer our thanks to everyone who participated in the discussions and research leading to this paper. We are grateful for the opportunity provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s Knowledge Synthesis Grant for a Digital Economy, and hope our research will be useful for the wider federal consultation on Industry Canada’s emerging digital economy strategy. The case studies featured in the Putting the ‘last-mile’ First report featured in this article include the contributions of many individuals working on First Nations and Inuit connectivity in Canada. The authors also thank the Assembly of First Nations ICT Ad Hoc Working Group who invited us to discuss an earlier draft of the Putting the last-mile First report and made several very helpful suggestions. The authors would also like to thank our partners for the Putting the last-mile First report: Keewaytinook Okimakanak in Ontario, Mik’maw Kina’matneway / Atlantic Canada's First Nation Help Desk in Nova Scotia, the First Nations Education Council in Quebec, and the First Nations Technology Council in British Columbia. These partners offered valuable feedback and ideas throughout the project. Finally, the authors thank the anonymous reviewers who provided constructive and helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.