Internet

Candidates address equity issues in internet access


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Currently, Canadians pay the among the highest internet rates in the world, and many living in rural regions have inadequate or unreliable internet access. However, the inaccessibility of internet for those living on limited income in urban areas has been an overlooked issue.

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Throughout the federal election campaign, local candidates have discussed expanding internet access into rural areas including Wolfe Island and Howe Island, and capping internet prices by breaking up internet monopolies but Daria Adèle Juüdi-Hope, chair of Healthcare Providers Against Poverty, is concerned that these approaches won’t significantly increase internet accessibility for those living under the poverty line.

“Considering how much a low-income person, for example somebody on ODSP or  if you’re making $15/hour on a 25-hour work week, there’s not enough money to pay for food, pay for rent, pay for medication, so a person with low income would maybe have a few dollars left to pay for the internet. With that they have the poorest connection or data that you could possibly purchase, with not the best computer cellphone, and typically those folks live in areas with not the best service,” Juüdi-Hope said in an interview with the Whig-Standard.

Juüdi-Hope, makes the argument that it’s essential for all Canadians to have access to reliable internet—regardless of wealth.

“It’s limiting. It’s not just for having fun on Facebook, it’s really limiting. We need internet for education, we need it for health care. As a health-care provider, it’s necessary for health. You need to look up what’s going on with you, read your emails from your pharmacist, you need it for your mental health and wellbeing—to stay in touch with family and friends,” she explained.

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Internet access is recognized in the party platforms, all of which address rural internet access, but not necessarily the issue of affordability or equity.

Juüdi-Hope explained that limiting internet prices is a good first step, but that without addressing the core issue of poverty, internet will remain inaccessible.

“Of course capping the cost, that’s helpful. I would ask for it to be reduced for every single Canadian, but let’s pay attention to those who are really struggling to afford it or can’t at all,”  she said.

Federal Liberal candidate for Kingston and the Islands, Mark Gerretsen, believes that opening up the market to more competition will help lower prices. Currently, Canada has five major internet providers—Bell, Rogers, Telus, Shaw, and Quebecor—who provide the vast majority of internet services.

“We need to increase competition by opening up the door to more providers. The problem is who owns the infrastructure, and the infrastructure is owned by just a few different companies,” Gerretsen said in an interview with the Whig-Standard.  “There are ways that we can force those providers to give access to other third parties so that there can be a competitive market out there, and I think looking at something like that really is the solution in making sure that the competition is there to really drive the prices down.”

Gerretsen said there are consequences of unaffordable or inaccessible internet, and that the Liberal government would work in partnership with other levels of government to make access more equitable.

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“We’re going to start to have to wrap our heads around the fact that internet is no longer a luxury but a basic requirement for so many people—whether that’s children in school or business owners having access to the internet to conduct business. Working with other levels of government, the federal government is going to have to come up with solutions if they believe that equity is important, which the Liberal government does,” he said.

Vic Sahai, the NDP candidate for Kingston and the Islands, highlighted the correlation between internet prices and access.

“We’re going to declare high speed internet an essential service, and with it a telecom consumer bill of rights. The first thing we’re going to talk about is instituting a price cap. If you don’t have the market forces to control competition, then it is the role of the government to regulate, and make sure that the the prices of telecom companies are on par with that of prices across the world, that is in our policy book. The declaration of high speed internet as an essential service will put it as a right to access for every Canadian,” Sahai explained in an interview with the Whig-Standard.

Beyond telecommunications policies, Sahai also framed the issue of equitable internet access in the broader context of affordability. He argued that no matter how cheap internet becomes, as long as some people can’t afford the basic necessities, internet access will be inequitable. According to Sahai, proposed NDP social policies will contribute to making internet more accessible for everyone.

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“What we have to do is make life affordable through a guaranteed livable income, dental care, pharmacare,” Sahai said. “You don’t need a cell phone as much as you need food, water, housing, medication, dental care, mental health care, all of these things will come first. At the end of the day, if you don’t have money left over, it doesn’t matter how cheap it is, you will not be able to afford a cell phone. We cannot look in singularity at an issue it has to be a multitude of issues that will impact whether or not we will deal with a particular issue.”

All candidates for Kingston and the Islands were contacted for the article, those whose views are not included did not respond to our request for comment.

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