Ottawa Business Journal: Protesters call for cheaper Internet for low-income Canadians

Dozens of protesters from a group representing low-income Canadians took to the streets of Ottawa Thursday, calling on the country’s largest telecommunications companies to provide cheaper Internet service for Canada’s poor.

About 40 members of ACORN Canada gathered outside the main branch of the Ottawa Public Library on Metcalfe Street before heading to Parliament Hill to pressure the government to make sure that all Canadians, regardless of income, have access to high-speed Internet for as little as $10 a month.

Robert Fitzpatrick, one of the organizers of the rally, said he and his roommate, who both receive monthly disability cheques from the province, pay about $75 a month for Internet service.

Mr. Fitzpatrick, who is visually impaired and unemployed, hopes to eventually go back to school to become a social worker. He says Internet service in Canada is still out of the reach of many people who can’t afford to be online yet increasingly need access to the Internet for everything from government programs to education courses.

Public libraries with Internet service are often difficult for many low-income Canadians to access and have limited resources, he said.

A Statistics Canada survey in 2010 found that 97 per cent of households in the top income quartile of $87,000 or more had home Internet access, compared with as little as 54 per cent of households in the lowest quartile of $30,000 or less.

“Even a lot of government offices here in Ottawa, they might not necessarily have the forms that you need,” said Mr. Fitzpatrick, who lives near the St. Laurent Shopping Centre and spends more than half his monthly income on rent.

“So much of the homework that’s being assigned, you need access to the Internet to be able to do your work or to get your forms filled out or find a job. (Low-cost Internet service) would be one less worry off of our minds, and we could focus more of what funds we have on things that are more important.”

ACORN Canada has met with two of the country’s largest Internet providers, Rogers and Telus, in an effort to address its concerns.

Last year, Rogers launched a program in Toronto called Connected for Success which provides Internet service to community housing residents for $9.99 a month and offers affordable computers and technical training. Rogers spokesperson Jennifer Kett said Thursday the company is looking at expanding the program to other cities in the future.

Telus and Bell did not respond to requests for comment.


Article by David Sali for the Ottawa Business Journal

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