Capital Current: Community members push for better internet accessibility for low-income households in Ottawa

Posted November 17, 2021

Members of the social justice group ACORN are demanding an end to barriers that prevent internet accessibility for all Canadians.

They made their point at a Tuesday rally at Ottawa City Hall which featured ACORN members, educators, students and other supporters of the cause sharing their experiences with those assembled in Marion Dewar Plaza. 

ACORN, the Teacher’s Federation of Ontario and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association want the City of Ottawa to create a publicly owned, community funded program that provides internet to low- and moderate-income households for $10 to $30 a month, said ACORN Community Organizer Bee Hancock. 

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) is a national organization representing low- and moderate-income families, with more than 130,000 members organized in 24 neighbourhood-scale chapters in nine Canadian cities, including Ottawa.

ACORN has held rallies across the country to push for improved internet access for low-income Canadians.

Having had no internet access until recently “was particularly hard” during the pandemic, ACORN member Ray Noyes told the rally.

Noyes said he now has access to internet through the Connected for Success program, which was recommended to him by a health-care provider so he could have access to virtual appointments.

“I’m one of the few lucky ones who gets very low-cost internet,” he said. Still, Noyes said programs like Connected for Success need to expand. “These programs exist but they do not reach enough people, they are not well publicized and they’re difficult to sign up.

“You have to apply online,” said Noyes. “I had to get my sister-in-law to do it for me. She submitted my ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program) form to qualify. But, that is another barrier for people who don’t have a family member who can apply for them.”

ACORN began its Internet for All campaign in 2013 and fought for the Connected for Success and Connecting Families programs to implemented, the organization explained in a Nov. 11 media release: “Many people are falling through the cracks and the federal government has been slow to take further action.”

“The internet is a necessity to survive these days,” said rally attendee Cliff, who did not provide his last name. “This city is capable to provide it but they choose not to.” 

Added Noyes: “This is already happening in Toronto, so it can be done.”

ACORN provided hand warmers for attendees as they cheered in response to the speakers’ calls to action.

Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper spoke in support of ACORN’S demands. 

“The hope would be, because we don’t have those markup costs from the Bells and the Rogers and the Teluses of the world, that we’d be in a position to offer internet for much, much less,” Leiper told CTV in April.

“Many low-income households must decide between internet access and other important bills like groceries, struggling with the high costs charged by Bell and Rogers,” ACORN said in the press release. “Parents should not be forced to choose between food and their children’s futures. Basic public education should not be hidden behind a virtual paywall.”

Access to information is the most important thing during the pandemic, and low-income households are being deprived of that, said Noyes. 

“It is unlikely that the current council will get this going. It might not get started until after the election next fall,” said Noyes. “We’re just trying to start somewhere.” 

 

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Article by Jaclyn McNeil for Capital Current

 

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