On June 6, the Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development marked a significant step towards realizing ACORN’s Internet for All campaign, as he announced a new program offering affordable internet for low-income households. The Connecting Families program targets National Child Benefit recipients and provides 10mbps internet with 100gb usage for $10 per month. Around 220,000 households - up to 600,000 people - are expected to benefit, keeping approximately $20million in the pockets of low-income parents.
Most people understand that high speed internet access is vital for meaningful participation in society. So vital, that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications (CRTC) declared internet access a basic right, and acknowledged that affordability is an issue, in 2016. Internet access is crucial for job applications, schoolwork, and accessing government forms. Yet, many low and moderate income Canadians are still forced to choose between putting food on the table or accessing the opportunities that result from participation in the digital economy.
We are pleased that the Federal Government is taking leadership on the issue of digital equity. However, the Connecting Families program is voluntary, so will not be offered by all internet service providers. Participating providers include Rogers, Bell, TELUS, Shaw, Vidéotron, SaskTel, and Cogeco. Nova Scotia ACORN members were deeply disappointed to discover that Eastlink has opted out of the program, snubbing low-income Nova Scotians. A crucial next step in our campaign will be pushing for the participation of companies like Eastlink, to ensure this program has a wide reach across the country. We took immediate action, securing a meeting with Eastlink representatives on June 7. During this meeting ACORN members discussed the need for an affordable internet package for all low-income individuals, including seniors, single parents, racialized individuals, people with disabilities and others. We plan to keep the pressure on for an affordable internet package with Eastlink and are meeting with the CEO next week to discuss what this package will look like and when we will see it introduced.
ACORN members have long been calling for affordable internet for everyone below the low-income measure. We are encouraged that Minister Bains announced to ACORN members recently that internet is a right. Going forward, our focus will be on the need for an inclusive, affordable internet program that allows racialized individuals and people with disabilities who do not have kids, seniors, and other low-income individuals to participate in the digital economy.
“This is a step in a good direction but we would have preferred if all people under the low-income measure were included - our campaign will continue to work on expanding the qualifier to all people on the low income measure.” Gisele Bouvier, ACORN Leader.
A 2016 survey of 394 ACORN members found that more than 4 in 5 respondents found the cost of internet to be “extremely high”, while almost 60% revealed that they had to cut back elsewhere to afford internet. In 2016, the CRTC declared internet a basic service that all Canadians should have access to at home. Today’s announcement is an important step towards realizing internet for all, but ACORN will keep pushing for a truly inclusive program that meets the needs of our low-income members. StatsCan reports that 42% of households in the lowest income quartile of $30,000 or less do not have home internet access, compared with only 2% in the highest income quartile. This digital divide has serious implications for those who cannot afford internet access.
Thanks to supporters like you, ACORN and key allies have made affordable internet a reality for hundreds of thousands of families across Canada. We look forward to working with you as we continue to fight for Internet for All!