Digital Equity Can’t Wait, Say Advocates

Practice Point

Digital Equity Can’t Wait, Say Advocates

March 22, 2021

CANADA’S FIRST AFFORDABLE INTERNET DAY OF ACTION TOOK PLACE on March 16, 2021, putting the spotlight on the proposed Rogers Acquisition of Shaw Communications.

Among those participating was the North Vancouver-based non-profit First Nations Technology Council, which reports on its website that “only 25% of Indigenous communities in BC meet the current broadband definition of 50 mbps download speed and 10 mbps upload speed.

“This lack of basic service, recently deemed a human right by the United Nations, is a key barrier preventing Indigenous peoples from accessing training and employment opportunities,” the Council reports.

COVID-19 appears to have made the situation worse, according to a PolicyNote article on “digital equity” from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in Vancouver.

In 2016, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) established a universal service objective that “Canadians, in urban areas as well as in rural and remote areas, have access to voice services and broadband Internet access services, on both fixed and mobile wireless networks” (at para. 37), declaring that (i) fixed and mobile wireless broadband Internet access services and (ii) fixed and mobile wireless voice services are “basic telecommunications services” within the meaning of subsection 46.5(1) of Canada’s Telecommunications Act. That provision requires service providers to contribute to a fund to support Canadians’ continuing access to such basic services.

The CRTC wrote that “there is a significant disparity in the broadband Internet access service levels available in urban centres compared to those in rural and remote areas.”

Rogers, for its part, announced on March 17, 2021 plans to partner with Cree-owned wireless carrier Eeyou Mobility to start offering service throughout the Eeyou Istchee and James Bay region of northern Quebec.

Moreover, Rogers “says it will create a new $1 billion fund dedicated to connecting rural, remote and Indigenous communities across Western Canada to high-speed internet service” (CBC News, March 15, 2021).

As well, Rogers says it is making free phones and data plans available to vulnerable and remote populations.

Other points of interest:

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