Metro News Vancouver: Low-income Canadians struggle to afford Internet, bridge digital divide

Low-income families have to cut back on food and rent budgets to afford the Internet, according to a new report.

ACORN Canada, an advocacy group for low- and moderate-income residents, polled almost 400 of its members and found that more than half (58.9 per cent) of respondents said they can’t really afford high-speed Internet but cut from their food, recreation or rent budgets because they need access to the world wide web or risk being left behind in an increasingly digital age.

“It’s an access issue,” said Noel Oullette, co-chair of ACORN’s New Westminster chapter. “People need high-speed Internet to apply and look for work. Students need it for homework. Government websites contain forms people need to access. Spending hours at a library or coffee shop [for public Internet] puts people at a disadvantage when they don’t have home Internet access.”

So instead of falling further behind the so-called “digital divide”, Oullette said many families are forced to sacrifice on essentials.
Seventy one per cent of survey respondents who find the cost of high-speed Internet “extremely high” admit to cutting back on their food budget to stay connected.
Members of ACORN rallied outside the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) offices in Vancouver Tuesday to lobby for a subsidized $10/month Internet plan for qualifying low-income families.
The federal regulatory agency is currently conducting a review of basic telecommunications services.
Oullette noted the CRTC’s own report last year showed that only 59 per cent of low-income households in Canada had home Internet access, compared to 98 per cent of the highest income households.
He said it’s positive the CRTC were undertaking a review of Internet pricing and availability in Canada but urged them to listen to what “we, the little people, have to say.”
As part of its review, the CRTC will hold public hearings on the country’s telecom services in April.
The deadline for applying for intervenor status or to appear at the hearings is Feb. 8.
The CRTC says it has received more than 15,000 responses so far to its questionnaire on broadband services, which runs to Feb. 29.
Article by Matt Kieltyka for Metro News Vancouver

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