The pandemic has laid bare many inequalities. One issue that emerged was that we needed the internet like never before. Every individual has been forced to access the World Wide Web for anything and everything.
While almost all households in the highest income group have home internet access, 31% of people in the lowest income group do not. Through our Iinternet for all campaign, ACORN Canada fights for affordable internet for all low-income people and to bridge the digital divide. ACORN members delivered 400 testimonies at the CRTC hearing, which led to a landmark declaration of broadband Internet access as a basic service goal in 2016. But the declaration did not announced subsidy for low-income people. ACORN continued its fight and in 2018 came the Connecting Families Program – a federal $10 per month internet program that targets families receiving the maximum national child care benefit. That meant $80 million for low-income parents.
But the program is only available for some families because there is a limit of 220,000 families and there is a end date – the program is only available until March 2022. Even the internet speed is too low, forcing many to withdraw, because ACORN Member Testimonials reveal. Grace, an ACORN member from Ottawa, who signed up for this program, saw her internet bill from Bell skyrocket to $100 — far more than she was paying when she didn’t enrolled in the government program.
In addition, large telecommunications companies – which generate billions of dollars – can opt out of this voluntary program. The result? Eastlink in Nova Scotia chose not to participate.
Among recent enhancements, Telus has expanded its program to provide affordable Internet access to people with disabilities in British Columbia and Alberta and those receiving Canada Pension Plan Disability benefits. Rogers has also expanded eligibility for its low-cost internet program to people receiving income support, disability benefits, or seniors receiving GIS in Ontario, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador. . The federal government announced the Connecting Families 2.0 program to cover low-income seniors starting in 2022.
Yet, in the end, none of these initiatives cover all low-income people. I have been without internet access for almost three decades. My health center tried to help me, then told me about a Rogers program. Ironically, this requires people to complete the application on the internet to access the internet.
The current government has pledged to connect 98% of Canadians to high-speed Internet by 2026 and all Canadians by 2030, a goal that is already too far off. The range of initiatives that exist today is a patchwork at best, leaving behind thousands of low-income people struggling to get online. The United States set a precedent by launching an emergency broadband connectivity fund by offering a rebate of up to $50 per month on broadband service to eligible households during the pandemic.
ACORN claimed a similar benefit for broadband in Canada. The pandemic is far from over and our request has gone largely unheeded. The Liberal election platform and the Innovation Minister’s mandate letter are conspicuously silent. We need the Connecting Families program extended to all low income people and made mandatory for all large businesses to provide affordable internet access at 50/10 Mbps speeds. Currently, internet for low-income people means low speed and high prices.
As Omicron rages on and things return to how they were at the start of the pandemic, the calls for affordable high-speed internet must intensify.