Sometime toward the end of the first week of April, the people who ran sites of the Community Access Program (CAP), bringing free or low-cost internet access to libraries and community centres across Canada, received a startling email: effective the week before, their funding was cut off.

According to Industry Canada, the CAP program was begun in 1995, at a time when the majority of Canadian households did not have internet access. However, because the government claims 80% of Canadian households are connected to the internet, Industry Canada does not believe the program needs to continue.

“I was really shocked,” said Eric Stackhouse, chairman of the Nova Scotia CAP association, who was interviewed by the CBC when the news broke in April. “I had hoped that we would have some discussion before they made that decision, but as they’ve done in the past, they simply sent out letters. There’s great disappointment and a lot of frustration. They say it’s achieved its purpose, but they never say what that purpose was.”

According to Stéfanie Power of Industry Canada, who responded by email to a request for an interview, the program objective was “to encourage participation in the knowledge-based economy by maximizing the accessibility of computers and the Internet at public access points, such as public libraries, across Canada. Today, the majority of Canadians are connected to the internet at home, while many more have access through their mobile devices.” While touting the study that determined 80% of Canadian households have internet access, Power admits that this figure did not take into account populations living on First Nations reserves.

“Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada is working with other federal departments, provinces and the private sector to improve broadband access within First Nation communities,” Power says. “The First Nation Infrastructure Fund supports First Nation proposals to enhance communities’ access to the internet. AANDC also supports a number of First Nation Regional Management Organizations, which provide comparable activities that enhance the effectiveness of classroom instruction through the development and enhancement of technological knowledge in school.

“The government of Canada,” she adds, “recognizes the importance of a nationally accessible digital infrastructure and narrowing the digital divide. Through the Broadband Canada: Connecting Rural Canadians program, the government is taking action to extend broadband internet access to as many unserved/underserved households as possible. As result of the program, broadband coverage in NWT and Nunavut was extended to approximately 1,220 and 9,300 households respectively. Federal funding for CAP ended on March 31, 2012, as scheduled.”

Nonetheless, Power does not comment on questions about the composition of the 20% of the Canadian population without access to internet, despite the problem that this portion of the populace may very well be those who need free access to internet the most.

Romeo Saganash, NDP MP for Abitibi–Baie-James–Nunavik–Eeyou, released a statement via his website slamming the decision to end the program.

“Scrapping the CAP is especially absurd when you consider that the Conservatives are asking unemployed Canadians to use the internet to get their benefits and find work,” said Saganash. “Studies by Statistics Canada show that almost half of Canadians earning $30,000 or less a year do not have internet access at home. CAP is useful in finding a job, preparing for school or communicating with the community.” reports the cuts to CAP sites also mean cuts to jobs in the more than 1,000 CAP sites across Canada, a difficult burden to bear at this time in our economy. NDP industry critic Guy Caron, meanwhile, associated the cuts to CAP with the ongoing defunding of libraries and community institution undertaken by the Harper government.

“All over the country,” Caron said, “New Democrats are discovering that communities need the services provided by the program and hope the Conservative government will reinvest the $2 million so that libraries, community centres and schools can stay connected.”