In the News
Toronto Star: GTA school boards race to plug ‘digital divide’ as kids prepare for school with or without adequate devices and high-speed internet
With the countdown to back-to-school on, boards are racing to make sure kids staying home this fall have access to the computers and internet they need for remote learning.
But big gaps remain, say some advocates, as the pandemic puts a spotlight on the digital divide in the GTA.
Despite the efforts of principals and teachers, Vivian Lee, a charity consultant who has worked in the non-profit sector on education for marginalized youth, describes the situation as “a total tire fire mess.” While it’s not as bad as in remote northern Ontario communities that are “basically in 2005,” the pandemic has exposed existing fault lines around internet access and tech in the GTA.
“There’s been a lot of tape and glue approaches,” she said. “Now you’ve got a visible digital divide.”
Alejandra Ruiz Vargas is the national leadership representative for ACORN Canada
In the early years of the Internet, it was primarily a luxury: a fun and convenient way to access games, watch videos, shop from your sofa. But in recent years, it’s become clear that high-speed Internet is a necessity for living in our current world, as crucial to our well-being as central heating or access to clean water. I’m a member of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, and long before Covid appeared, we were trying to convince politicians, the CRTC and telecom giants that Internet access was a basic need. People need connectivity for practical reasons, like finding jobs, getting government benefits and doing homework, as well as accessing entertainment and keeping in touch with loved ones. In 2016, the United Nations declared Internet access a human right, but even in Canada, around half of low-income families don’t have access to high-speed Internet at home.
Capital Current: Should Internet be free in Canada? ACORN campaign pushes for universal connectivity during COVID-19
Ray Noyes has been feeling particularly isolated during the pandemic. The Ottawa man, who has bipolar disorder and lives on the $1,200 the Ontario Disability Support Program pays out each month, doesn’t risk leaving his house because he is vulnerable to COVID-19.
Unable to afford internet access, he is cut off from many of his usual supports.
“My doctor is working from home, and so I’ve only been able to see her or to have visits with her by phone,” he said. “If I had the internet, we could at least see each other, which would be helpful. I have a counselor who is in the same situation.
“But living without the internet, and I also don’t have cable TV, I’m relying on the radio to hear the news.”
Noyes is not alone.
ACORN Members do Social Distancing and Virtual Internet for All Actions as Liberal Government Leaves us in Debt and OFFLINE!
ACORN members from across the country from most provinces including Alberta, BC, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia got together virtually as well as did social distancing actions to demand Internet for All as the need for the internet is greater than ever!
We did a national zoom action where more than 70 members participated. We went through the history of ACORN Canada’s Internet for All Campaign and then discussed how to put pressure on politicians and big telecom companies to ensure that our demand is met. The zoom action ended with sign making and then members holding up their signs reinforcing the message that we need affordable internet.