Op-Ed

Photo:CC Christiaan Colen

Anti-poverty group is right to push for cheap, basic plans

We live in a digital world. For most people the Internet, whether for recreation or for work, is an essential part of life. Anti-poverty group ACORN and advocacy group Open Media, among others,  are currently lobbying the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to force Internet companies to provide a $10 per month, high-speed Internet package for Canadians.

Some companies already provide an option close to this, such as Rogers’ subsidized Internet for people living in community housing, although that’s only available to people in Ontario, Newfoundland and New Brunswick. This service is limited however, both geographically and demographically.

Requiring Internet providers to supply a low-cost, bare bones Internet package is a fairer solution than requiring that every household be given a free package. It’s also a more realistic solution, as paying for the service keeps Internet companies in business and provides incentive to supply the discounted service.

While discounted Internet service is a good way to provide Internet to homes, there are other measures that cities can take to provide greater access to their residents.

Municipal Wi-Fi has been made a reality in many cities, in some cases just in parks, or for specific city services. Since it would be difficult to provide all of Ottawa with free Internet, as the city is spread out, it could instead be provided in smaller doses to start—only in city parks, the downtown core and OC Transpo busses and stops.

In such a heavily digital society reliable and convenient Internet access is a necessary requirement to be a properly functioning part of our modern society. Keeping and finding employment will be difficult if you don’t have access to e-mail, or can’t stay updated on the information that is only updated on websites. When so many people do have reliable access, people who don’t are at a serious disadvantage. Internet isn’t a life saving right, and you won’t die without it, but we’ve agreed that a free high school education is a right, and Internet access also provides a higher quality of life.

The practice of providing free Internet to the public hasn’t been accepted in Ottawa yet. However, it’s clear that in an increasingly digital world Internet is a basic human right, and as a right it must be protected and evenly distributed. Providing a basic and paid plan for all is just one of the ways that Canada can ensure equal access.