With his position on a committee called a rural caucus, Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad sees good things ahead.
“The technology that’s available now opens up a world of possibility in terms of how small or remote areas can improve the services that are offered.”
Video conferencing technology will be used to improve rural education and health care and will bring higher-level services normally only available in larger urban centres to rural communities.
Rustad recently visited Fort St. James Secondary School to watch a video conference and lecture by a scientific expert to a high school science class. The video conference allowed the scientist to interact with the students and answer any questions they had.
The same technology has already been in place at UNBC in Prince George, and is integral to the Northern Medical Program, according to Rustad, allowing doctors to teach northern medical students from their posts at UBC in Vancouver.
Improved video conferencing is also allowing doctors to extend the reach of rural health care, with doctors able to manage some chronic cases using the technology and support some very rural health clinics, where doctors might not always be on site.
The example Rustad pointed to was the Grassy Plains clinic, south of Francois Lake, a clinic supported by doctors out of Fraser Lake.
“It doesn’t completely substitute a visit from a doctor, but for many issues, particularly chronic issues, it has been able to provide a great option and has helped to improve the quality of service that can be provided,” said Rustad.
He also suggested the technology could be used by the project School District 91 is working on through their business company, opening up B.C.-certified schools in China. Students studying at the schools could link to local students and teachers to expand the immersion experience and broaden the international education potential for both sides.
A further future use could also be to help alleviate court backlog and costs by videoconferencing some or all court activities. The costs of court dates and overbookings is currently an issue, as RCMP officers who have transferred and other witnesses have to be brought in at great expense and sometimes don’t even get a chance to appear due to overbooked court sessions.
Rustad said the technology has already saved money for the taxpayer by allowing for videoconferencing of some public meetings by the provincial finance committee he used to be a part of. People from all over the province could meet and present to the finance committee, giving more communities their input and reducing travel costs for the committee.
“It’s amazing how technology is changing our world and how we think and do things,” said Rustad.
The one stumbling block for rural areas may be their bandwidth capabilities though, said Rustad.
Video-conferencing technology is only available through high-speed internet connections, so very rural areas which don’t yet have the capabilities to stream video will not be able to make use of these advances in services.