Posted August 14, 2019
On Tuesday, August 13th, ACORN members held a series of events across Canada to launch our new report: Barriers to Digital Equality in Canada. The report comes out of our Internet for All campaign. Collected through a survey of around 500 low and moderate income household members across Canada, the data highlights critical concerns that, if they remain unaddressed, will further deepen the digital divide in the country. The report was supported by the Canadian Internet Registration Authority’s (CIRA) Community Investment Program.
Following is a brief account from the cities where ACORN members took action! Press conferences were held in Calgary, Hamilton, Halifax, Ottawa, Peel and Toronto.
In Calgary, ACORN leader Pascal Apuwa did an interview with Calgary radio station 660 News about the Internet for All campaign and the new report. The interview touched on the sacrifices low-income people make in order to afford internet access; the many things people need the internet for (kids’ homework, medical refills and appointments, government services, banking services, job searching, and many more aspects of daily life); and Canada’s internet pricing vis-a-vis other G7 countries. Pascal emphasized the need to get involved with the Internet for All campaign to help ACORN demand affordable internet across Canada.
At the press conference held outside Bob Bratina's office, Member of Parliament for Hamilton East — Stoney Creek, Hamilton's Downtown and East End chairs Mike Wood and Chantel Potter shared key recommendations from the report. MP Bratina came out to accept the report and listen to ACORN members talk about the struggle to afford internet. ACORN ally Anthony Marco, President of Hamilton and District Labour Council, joined the event and spoke about the importance of ending the digital divide.
Toronto ACORN members were joined by Liberal MP Julie Dabrusin and Federal NDP Candidate Min Sook Lee to speak about the need for affordable home internet at the press conference. The event was hosted by East York chapter chair Alejandra Ruiz Vargas, who shared the details of the report and the campaign. ACORN leaders Jan Belgrave and Tomeko Martin spoke about how the high costs of internet and the need for $10/month internet for low income people. After the press conference, Julie Dabrusin accepted the report and thanked ACORN for the work of its members to raise this important issue.
In Halifax, ACORN members were joined by NDP candidate Christine Saulnier and Michelle from the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia (AHANS), who eagerly supported lower internet costs and agreed that it is essential that all Canadians, regardless of economic status, have equal opportunity to keep up with the rapid changes, latest skills, and emerging industries that internet access offers. The Digital Equity press conference was also recorded by CBC Radio and ACORN members provided accounts of their personal struggles with telecommunications companies, and the sacrifices they have had to make in order to stay connected.
In Ottawa, representatives from CIRA and Open Media supported the ACORN members' call to action. Attendees participated in a recording for ACORN Canada Radio where members shared their daily struggles to access home internet and discussed how we can push governments and telecom companies alike to close the digital divide.
Peel ACORN members met with the local director of Navdeep Bains' (Member of Parliament for Mississauga - Malton) constituency office. ACORN members demanded that the Connecting Families program be broadened to ensure internet access to all low income people regardless of familial status and housing. Furthermore, Ali Raza (Mississauga News) interviewed Peel ACORN member Nabeela Irfan following the meeting. They discussed ACORN's motivation in the fight for affordable Internet and the increasing need of digital equity.
Here are the main findings of the study:
- Households with incomes of $30,000 or lower were less likely to have home internet access than those with incomes over $60,000. Further, the access is worse for those with household incomes below $10,000. More than one third failed to complete their tasks online due to lack of internet access at home.
- Cost was found to be a major barrier to digital equity. Almost half indicated that they pay over $70/month for internet services. In addition to the high monthly cost of internet, extra fees levied by the network providers for exceeding their data allowance is common. Almost one third of survey respondents had experienced additional usage fees.
- Internet access for these low-income Canadians comes at the cost of paying for basic necessities such as food, clothing or transit. Over 35 percent have had to make sacrifices to afford internet access.
- Importantly, the study finds that while a majority of people use the internet to connect with family and friends, they also use it for online banking, accessing government services, seeking information and applying for jobs – tasks critical for everyone, especially for low income seniors and single occupant households.
- Even among those who have internet access, the majority of them rated themselves as average or better at checking email, using a search engine or using Microsoft Office or similar. However, 1 in 5 rated their skills at using Microsoft office as poor or very poor.
Among the recommendations coming from the report, ACORN is advocating for the expansion of the Connecting Families program to address the digital access needs of all low-income community members (not just affordable internet for people with young children); for telecommunications providers to provide affordable, high-speed home broadband; and for all levels of government to support digital literacy education that meets the needs of low and moderate income community members.
The full report can be accessed here: Barriers to Digital Equality in Canada