Building an affordable digital world

To mark World Consumer Rights Day 2017, Canada’s Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) asks “How do we build a digital world that is affordable for everyone?

Are governments and policy makers in Canada and the rest of the world ensuring everyone can get online? PIAC believes much more can and must be done, especially to ensure low-income families – those who could benefit most from being online – can affordably access broadband.

PIAC notes that low income households are far less likely to subscribe to home internet service, as regular readers of this page know. PIAC says that cost was the number 2 reason cited by respondents for not subscribing. Lack of interest was the primary reason given, but other surveys have found this to be a euphemism affordability for families that are having trouble putting food on the table or paying for shelter.

As I wrote last month, during the hearing that led to the Basic Service Objective determination, CRTC Chair JP Blais interrupted the proceeding and said “Every day that goes by without a more robust Canadian broadband strategy means a Canadian who is socially and economically vulnerable continues to be profoundly disadvantaged.” Still, as PIAC notes in its press release, “the CRTC decided not to address affordability for low-income households at all, and instead asked the Canadian federal government to add this issue to its forthcoming Innovation Agenda.”

Since 2008, my opening remarks each year at The Canadian Telecom Summit have called for government and industry to work together to help increase adoption of broadband services in low-income households. TELUS and Rogers have stepped up to offer significant discounts on broadband service as well as low-cost computers, technical support and literacy training. But the government missed an opportunity to make such a program even more widely available as part of its approval of the Bell / MTS acquisition.

PIAC writes, “Affordable broadband will not only be a challenge in Canada but for all low-income consumers wishing to go online around the world. It is a challenge all governments and policy makers must recognize and urgently address.”

As I have written before, I support creative initiatives, such as Facebook’s “Free Basics,” as a way to encourage increased digital participation. In another post, I wrote that “Zero [rating] is better than nothing.” PIAC may differ on some elements of how to implement solutions to increase broadband adoption among low income households, but I unreservedly endorse PIAC’s concluding remark:

Universal digital participation is key to innovation and to building a digital world consumers can trust. For World Consumer Rights Day 2017, we believe Canada needs to ensure there is affordable broadband internet for all.

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