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Here's how the digital divide is hurting low-income Canadians

Written by Think Forward Staff
Friday, 12 February 2016

New research from ACORN Canada, a national non-profit organization of low- and moderate-income families, reveals that the high cost of home internet is forcing some Canadians to reduce their spending on essential items like food in order to pay for internet service. The lack of affordable access to high-speed home internet is also serving as a major barrier to low-income earners' participation and success in the new digital economy.

The ACORN study, entitled Internet for All: Internet Use and Accessibility for Low-Income Canadians, surveyed ACORN members and families from across the country in order to measure the extent of Canada's "digital divide" – the gap between those who have home internet versus those who do not. It found that the internet plays an integral role in the daily lives of low-income earners, but the high costs of securing home internet access are causing undue hardship among working class Canadians.

Survey respondents who said they struggle to afford home internet access claimed to enconter difficulties with job searching and retention; accessing government forms and information on health care and nutrition; and engaging in civic and social activities. These findings suggest that a lack of affordable internet access is preventing low- and moderate-income Canadians from fully participating in today's economy, and is also negatively impacting their lives outside of work.

As well, an overwhelming majority of survey respondents (83.5%) viewed the price of home internet as "extremely high," while nearly 60 percent explained that, because they need the internet to perform daily activities, they regularly have to take money from other budget items to pay for internet service. The budget items most commonly affected include food (71%), recreation (64%), and rent (13%).

Given that individuals and families without a home internet connection are excluded from equal opportunities to education, employment, government services, and civic participation, the findings of the ACORN study are extremely troubling. Indeed, there is now a growing consensus that the digital divide is linked to socio-economic exclusion and poverty, despite the fact that the United Nations has declared internet access to be a global human right.

And so ACORN Canada is calling on governments and businesses to address Canada's digital divide by taking a number of steps to ease the financial burden of low-income earners when it comes to high-speed home internet access.  

Arguing that "affordable options for high-speed home internet are necessary (for) full participation by low-income earners in the digital sphere," ACORN recommends that governments and businesses develop a $10 per month high-speed home internet plan for individuals and families living below the Low Income Measure. The organization is also calling for governments to develop programs whereby subsidized computers are made available to qualifying families and individuals.

In order to encourage the development of these services, ACORN recommends that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) categorize broadband high-speed internet as a basic telecommunications service in Canada.

Just think of the economic activity that would be generated, and the prosperity that could be created, if ALL Canadians were able to actively participate in the digital economy by having equal access to high-speed home internet. The opportunities are endless, and that's why governments and businesses need to act on this issue now.



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