What is CAP?

The community access program (CAP) was first introduced in 1995 to “help provide Canadians with affordable access to the Internet and the services and tools it provides.” (1) It became a cornerstone of the federal Connecting Canadians program which was introduced in September 1997.

What are the goals of CAP?

The goal of the Connecting Canadians program was " to make Canada the most connected nation in the world -- to make Canada a world leader in developing and using an advanced information infrastructure to achieve our social and economic goals in the knowledge economy.” (2)

In the 1997 Liberal Party policy platform, CAP was presented as a community economic development (CED) initiative.(3) Within two years, the goals associated with Connecting Canadians and CAP had moved well beyond the idea of connectivity as access and infrastructure to support CED to the idea of connectivity as a vehicle for social cohesion.

In facilitating the ongoing challenge of realizing these goals, CAP has become a critical part of the infrastructure of many communities across Canada. Community experience in its delivery reveals a new public responsibility in social programming and CED.  What CAP proves is that, in a society that is online, people on the margins have their burden increased by needs for access to processes of digital inclusion.

What other programs are involved?

The Connecting Canadians program also included other made-in-Canada on-line access programs like SchoolNet, the Community Access Program (CAP), VolNet and Smart Communities as well as e-commerce, Canadian content and government on-line projects. In addition, a companion program, the CAP Youth Initiative (CAP-YI), funded through Human Resources and Social Development Canada, provides paid work experience to youth. Together with thousands of volunteers, the CAP-YI workers help support the CAP sites so communities can bring all members – including immigrants, seniors, youth, First Nations and the socially and economically challenged -- up to date with new communications tools.

How is CAP delivered and where are the sites located?

CAP sites are most commonly located in schools, libraries, community centres and friendship centres and operate through partnerships with provincial/territorial governments and non-profit organizations.

As a result of various program adjustments since 1994, CAP has evolved into 13 different provincial/territorial projects. Each province or group of provinces follows a different model for the administration and delivery of this program.

For more information on these models, please see:

Moll, Marita and Melissa Fritz. (2007). “Community networks and Canadian public policy: p. 10-11. http://www3.fis.utoronto.ca/iprp/cracin/Moll_Fritz_Info-incan.pdf

How much does CAP cost at the federal level?

Industry Canada documents peg the cost of the CAP program between 1995-96 and 2006 at $337,200,000.(4)

Now, in 2007, the Connecting Canadians initiative has been largely disbanded. While the CAP program is still alive, it has suffered major budget cuts in recent years, from $25 million in 2004-5 to approximately $9 million in 2007. Once encompassing 8,800 sites across Canada (Industry Canada, 2005a), the remaining number of active sites is 3786.(5) Every year, program renewal seems to hang upon a slim thread. In 2007, the program ended on April 1 and was not formally renewed until June 6, leaving CAP site administrators, volunteers and users across the country in the lurch for 9 weeks. Currently, CAP is once again “under review” with the government looking for ways to refocus the program.

Who uses CAP sites?

An early sample of respondents to a national survey on CAP users indicated that community networks are serving a group that could otherwise be on the wrong side of both the economic and the digital divide.

Income distribution analysis of the user population represented in this sample reveals that almost 40% had an annual household income of less that $9,999 per year.

Further analysis showed that 59% over the age of 40 had an annual household income of less than $20,000. (6)

The help of staff and volunteers was very important to respondents trying to use the resources at the sites.

What are CAP sites used for?

A high number of respondents to the national survey reported using the sites to search for health related information.

Searching for government information is a common activity, especially for younger users.

There is a heavy use of these sites for employment related courses/services with job finding skills.

They are well used to facilitate community wide volunteering activities.

Community networking sites play a significant role in facilitating face to face local social interaction.

Why does CAP matter:

According to recent research, the role played by these new actors on the community stage appears to be much more significant than originally thought. There is growing evidence that these sites are important hubs around which communities help their members find economic and social stability.

Given the use of social cohesion as one of the policy goals for the federal involvement in connectivity programs, new evidence of social as well as economic benefits should be carefully considered in policy decisions about the role such services play in Canadian communities, the level of support they should be accorded, and who should assume responsibility.

For local stories about the importance of these sites to their communities please see:

The good news about CAP” in Making Waves, a magazine published by the Center for Community Enterprise www.cedworks.com/files/pdf/free/MW180210.pdf; and “Ideas that Travel” www.tc.ca June 2007. CAP stories.


(1) Industry Canada. (2005a) Departmental performance report 2004 - 2005. http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/rma/dpr1/04-05/IC-IC/IC-ICd4506_e.asp

(2) Manley, John. “Canada and the Internet Revolution: Connecting Canadians.” Speech to the annual meeting of the Trilateral Commission, Washington, D.C. 1999. http://www.trilateral.org/annmtgs/trialog/trlgtxts/t53/man.htm

(3) Liberal Party of Canada. Securing our Future Together; Preparing Canada for the 21st Century. Ottawa, Liberal Party of Canada, 1997.

(4) Industry Canada. (2005a). ibid.

(5) Industry Canada. (2005b). Strategic outcome : Competitive industry and sustainable communities. (Departmental program review 2004-2005). http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/rma/dpr1/04-05/IC-IC/IC-ICd4503_e.asp#pri17

(6) Moll, Marita and Melissa Fritz. (2007). Mapping new territory on-line and off: A snapshot of community network users, their activities and their impacts. Preliminary Report on the CRACIN Survey of Community Network Users. Publication TBA.

Further reading:

Coleman, Ronald. (2002). “Economic value of CAP sites as investments in social capital” and “Impact of CAP sites on volunteerism.” GPI Atlantic. http://www.gpiatlantic.org/publications/abstracts/econvalue-cap-ab.htm

Moll, Marita. (2007). “The good news about CAP.” Making Waves, Vol 18, No 2 Summer. http://www.cedworks.com/files/pdf/free/MW180210.pdf

Moll, Marita and Melissa Fritz. (2007). “Community networks and Canadian public policy: Preliminary report on the CRACIN survey of community networks. Draft. Sept. 04. http://www.cracin.ca

December, 2007.