70% of low-income Canadians without Internet say it’s too expensive

cpc computer 56.jpg

ACORN Canada recently released a report called Barriers to Digital Equity in Canada, and it perfectly demonstrates why the federal government needs to do more to connect low-income families to fast, reliable, affordable Internet. 

The report declares what I’ve been saying on my blog for some time now - Canadians need the Internet for work, school, to access government services and forms, pay bills, and connect with family and friends. Since these things are essential, the federal government should be ensuring Canadians have access at home. 

ACORN conducted a survey of low-income households, more than a quarter of which had a household income between $10,001 and $20,000. Three quarters said they connected to the Internet the same day they participated in the survey. The top three providers were Shaw, Telus, and Bell. 

A whopping 17% said they didn’t have Internet at home, and of these respondents, 70% said cost was the reason for not having Internet. Only 14% of those without Internet said they didn’t need or want it. The results showed that households with incomes below $30,000 were less likely to have Internet at home. 

Nearly half of the respondents said they pay $70 or more a month for Internet, and 88% said the Internet is too expensive. ACORN asked how much the Internet should cost, and 21% said somewhere between $20 and $30 a month. 

One of the recommendations ACORN made in the report is to expand the Connecting Families program, for which the federal government has budgeted $13.2 million over five years to help low-income families get Internet access for $10 a month through participating providers. ACORN says big telecom providers should be required to participate in the program. 

This report provides people like me and others additional ammunition to advocate for substantial and meaningful investment in broadband infrastructure to achieve ubiquitous fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) and much stronger enforcement of regulations by the CRTC to ensure every Canadian has equitable access to the Internet. 

Cost isn’t the only barrier to digital equity. The government’s standard of high-speed Internet at 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload will lead to an even greater divide down the road. This asymmetrical best effort service is not capable of supporting many of the cloud and peer-to-peer applications in use today. I call this speed the “new dial-up” because wealthier urban neighbourhoods have access to 1 Gbps symmetrical dedicated service today and at prices comparable to the 50/10 Mbps service in rural areas. These FTTP networks are scalable to 10 Gbps when the infrastructure to deliver 50/10 has very limited scalability.

Municipalities have been forced to step into the breach in the absence of federal and provincial Internet strategies, and municipalities have a track record of successfully bridging the digital divide. 

I’ve worked with municipalities and regional governments to design and build fibre-optic and wireless networks in Canada and the U.S. I write business cases and plans and funding applications for municipalities as well. The time is now, let’s start planning.

Campbell Patterson