The public-use computers at city, nonprofit and educational sites in Burnaby will no longer receive upgrade and replacement funding from the federal government.
The Community Access Program was established in 1995, to provide publicly accessible computers throughout the country, encouraging online participation and use, according to Industry Canada's website.
The program had met its objective, so federal funding ended on March 31, the website stated.
But Edel Toner-Rogala, chief librarian at the Burnaby Public Library, said many people still require free public access to computers and the Internet.
While the library will be able to maintain its public-use computers without the funding, other agencies and groups will not, she said.
"We made a commitment to public computing almost 20 years ago now, so we will continue to provide free public access to public computing," Toner-Rogala said. "What it means is there will be other things we just don't do."
In addition to the computer stations at Burnaby libraries, other sites in the city provided public-use computers, including the Neil Squire Society, the Burnaby school district and the city's parks, recreation and cultural services department.
The federal government wants submissions to departments - such as employment insurance applications - to be made online, but is taking away an avenue for citizens to do that, she added.
It's not just the technology that these sites provide, it's training and computer instruction, as well, she pointed out.
"Public computing is such an important part of living in a civil society, and people having access to email and to the web," Toner-Rogala said. "We're living supposedly in a knowledge based economy."
Toner-Rogala said she is sad and frustrated to see the program go.
"I've been a CAP champion for almost as long as I've lived in B.C.," she said, adding Prince George Public Library, where she first worked when she moved to the province, was an early adopter of the program. "It's a very important and worthwhile program."
The community has been able to show the value of the program, Toner-Rogala said, and she hopes that support for the program will encourage the government to bring it back.
The funding cut will be hardest on rural libraries, Toner-Rogala said - those that don't have other funding available to keep the computers in good running condition.
"The deep distress for me is for the many communities outside of the Lower Mainland where their libraries don't have the capacity to absorb this cut," she said.
The cut for the program in B.C. libraries amounts to $515,000, according to Annette DeFaveri, executive director for the British Columbia Library Association.
"This will most likely have long-term effects in rural B.C.," she said.
The computers at public use sites are used all day long, DeFaveri pointed out, so the wear and tear is more extensive than on a home computer.
"People pound away at it all day," she said. "And when a keyboard breaks or there's something that needs to be replaced, part of this CAP funding goes to do that."
The cut will affect libraries' abilities to replace and repair equipment, and eventually will cut the number of computers available, especially in rural communities, she said.
In rural communities, the amount of funding was small but necessary, she said, citing examples such as the Grand Forks library, which received $3,708 in 2010.
Burnaby received $19,859 for four public-use terminals in libraries in 2010, according to DeFaveri, and those computers were used for 271,224 individual sessions.
Since the program started, more Canadians own personal computers or smart phones with access to the Internet, making the program unnecessary, according to Industry Canada.
"In 1995, only 40 per cent of Canadian households had a computer and only about 10 per cent of these households had Internet access," Industry Canada's website stated. "By contrast, in 2010 about 79 per cent of Canadians had access to the Internet at home."
An Industry Canada media relations spokesperson, Stefanie Power, declined a request for an interview, instead redirecting the NOW to the Industry Canada website.