Rogers has announced a significant expansion of its affordable internet program, Connected For Success, hoping to reach 750,000 households in Ontario, New Brunswick and Newfoundland.
The program has already served more than 25,000 households across the three provinces, according to a Rogers spokesperson, and around 250,000 households are currently eligible. It was first available to Toronto Community Housing residents, then later expanded to all Ontarians in rent-geared-to-income housing, and to families receiving the maximum Canada Child Benefit, as well as people in Newfoundland and New Brunswick in similar situations.
Now, the program will also be available to Ontarians receiving income support through Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), and for senior Ontarians receiving the Guaranteed Income Supplement, as well as those in Newfoundland and New Brunswick accessing similar programs. The expansion will add around 750,000 new eligible households.
Rogers chief communications officer Sevaun Palvetzian said many of the people the Connected For Success program is intended for use the internet to access critical services.
“It’s essential for us to be able to help close that digital divide,” she said.
The program provides internet for $9.99 a month at a speed of 25 mbps, and is now adding two more tiers for families that need higher speeds. Families can get 75 mbps for $24.99, and 150 mbps for $34.99, according to the spokesperson.
“We heard from our members that they could benefit from both more choice and faster speeds,” said Palvetzian.
In the spring, Rogers will also add a 50-mbps option for $14.99, in line with the federal government’s targets, said Palvetzian, adding that she believes the private sector has an important role to play in bridging the digital divide.
The program also provides free installation and modem rental, unlimited data and no credit checks, meaning clients pay the monthly fee and nothing else, according to the press release. Applications are taken through the Connected For Success website and require verification that they are receiving one of the qualifying programs.
Palvetzian said the pandemic has revealed just how essential communication and connection are to everyday life: “It is a critical part of life that we wanted to make sure everybody has access to.”
She said the expansion is the “next generation” of the program, which began in 2013 as a pilot project.
The issue of affordable internet has been top of mind for many during the pandemic, as more parents have had to work from home, kids are being schooled remotely, and social services increasingly move online while the usual hotspots for free Wi-Fi, such as libraries and schools, have been closed.
The “digital divide” is becoming more acute, advocates say, widening the gap between those who can afford good home internet and those who can’t.
Marlene Ham, executive director of the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses, said the network of social services normally used by women and children accessing shelters and transition houses was suddenly shifted online, making it difficult for those in low-income households to access the programs they relied on.
The expansion of Connected For Success is “going to have a significant impact, a positive impact for sure, for women and children that we work with,” said Ham.
“This isn’t just going to increase their access to our services, but it will also help to increase access to the many other services that they have to connect with,” she said.
Recently, a group of advocacy organizations announced a day of action for affordable internet. The coalition includes researchers, telecom company TekSavvy and advocacy group ACORN Canada, which has been pushing for universal access to $10/month internet for low-income people for years.
A January report showed that in Toronto, two in five households have speeds below the targets set by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.
And Toronto recently announced plans to build its own affordable internet system, with pilot projects in three low-income areas that could see service by the end of 2021.
“This last year in particular has shown us the vital role that networks and connectivity play in all of our lives,” said Rogers Communications president and CEO Joe Natale in the press release. “We are proud to play a role in bridging the digital divide.”
Federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry François-Philippe Champagne agreed in the press release that the pandemic has reinforced the importance of affordable high-speed internet.
“It is a priority for our Government to ensure that all Canadians get connected, and we are counting on our partners in the private sector to help us achieve that goal. I congratulate Rogers on expanding its Connected for Success program,” said Champagne.
Ham said she thinks the program can serve as a model for other telecom companies, especially the big ones.
“The world that we’re in right now and the pivot that has occurred has really made (internet) essential. It really is no longer a luxury,” she said. “We do need everyone to be able to get on board … Rogers has been able to kind of demonstrate that as a part of the private sector, there are these possibilities.”
Article by Rosa Saba for Toronto.com