HALIFAX — A new report says the digital economy appears to be on the rise in Atlantic Canada, thanks to a large increase in household internet usage.
The Atlantic Provinces Economic Council says 88 per cent of households were using the internet in 2016, compared with 12 per cent in 1997.
The report card, issued Thursday by the independent policy research organization, says the rapid growth is due in part to download speeds increasing across the region, with New Brunswick having the fastest average download speed in Canada.
But, the council says download speeds and internet access remain much lower in rural communities.
In Prince Edward Island, for example, about 50 per cent of households do not have high-speed internet access.
Senior policy analyst Fred Bergman says as the internet is increasingly used for streaming videos and music, online gaming and electronic purchases, download speeds have become a “key factor.”
All four Atlantic provinces have initiatives underway to meet the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission target of 90 per cent high-speed internet access by 2021, the report notes.
“Improving download speeds in rural communities must be a priority if all households and businesses are going to have effective access to the digital economy,” Bergman said in a news release.
The report said about two-thirds of Canadians purchased at least one digital product in the last year, with non-store online sales almost tripling in Atlantic Canada between 2012 and 2016, compared with a 90 per cent increase nationally.
It cites estimates by Statistics Canada that Atlantic Canadians earned $87 million through offering accommodations on digital sharing platforms, such as AirBnB, in 2017.
The report says tracking digital use, purchases and sales is increasingly important, although regional analysis is hindered by a lack of provincial data for e-commerce and production.