Ottawa Citizen: Protesters rally for low-income families that fall victim to the 'digital divide'

A national advocacy organization wants the federal government to better regulate broadband to give cheaper access to Internet for low income families.

Leeann Gates — a member of ACORN, the organization that coordinated Thursday afternoon’s rally to close what they say is a “digital divide” in society — says that, for years she went without Internet service, but buckled a few years back so that her daughter, now in Grade 9, could use the web for schoolwork.

But in the summer, they go without service.

“It’s important … A lot of teachers do homework through the Internet,” said Gates at the downtown Ottawa Public Library brand where about 25 protesters formed a mock library lineup, then marched to Parliament Hill.

Gates says her daughter has a learning disability and online resources can help with comprehension.

“I’m paying money that I don’t have,” said Gates, who estimates she pays about $50 a month for Internet. Lowering that would leave more for expenses like hydro or basic items for her family. “I could stop saying ‘Hey, don’t eat so much bread or milk this week.’”

The rally was part of a series of Canada-wide “back-to-school actions” by members of ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. The protests demanded more affordable Internet, arguing their children shouldn’t have rely on libraries to complete homework.

According to the organization about 18 per cent of Canadians don’t have broadband, but that number jumps to nearly half for low income earners.

None of the $132 million allocated by the CRTC in 2012 to ensure Canadians connect to a “world-class communications system” specifically helped poor Canadians access home broadband, the organization contents.

Robert Fitzpatrick said Internet access is a necessity.

“As someone who’s on disability for being vision impaired as well as a permanent resident working to become a citizen, I need to stay connected (with immigration websites) so I can keep on top of my paperwork,” said Fitzpatrick, 26, who has been in Canada for just over two years and is 95-per-cent blind.

He pays about $75 a month with a roommate, and says a lower rate would mean “extra food or more clothing.”

Kathleen Fortin, who is in a wheelchair, echoed those sentiments.

The Ottawa resident said that web access is important for communication, health reasons, but also for practical purposes like job applications.

“It becomes a society of have and have-nots.”


Article by Samantha Wright Allen for the Ottawa Citizen

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