What if you build broadband, but they don’t come?

The following commentary appeared on Cartt.ca.

If you build it he will come.

Often misquoted as “If you build it, they will come”, the mantra from “Field of Dreams” has become a metaphor driving many business plans.

Unfortunately, reality shows that if you build it, whatever “it” may be, all you do is improve the chances for them, whoever “them” may be, to come.

The Field of Dreams business case philosophy has been a driving force behind many government broadband programs. Just get broadband built, people will sign up. Build broadband pipes into this community and knowledge-based workers will work from home. Build municipal fibre networks, and companies will relocate and expand. Employment will skyrocket.

Build it and they will come.

And if you subscribe to that view, what if we apply that philosophy to improve broadband adoption among low-income households.

We know that broadband adoption rates vary with income. Fewer low-income households have broadband connections than higher income households. According to Statistics Canada’s 2020 Canadian Internet Use Survey, 93.6% of Canadians have access to the internet at home. That sounds pretty good, but there is tremendous variability based on income: only 80.9% of Canadians in the lowest income quartile have home internet, compared to 99.6% in the highest income quartile.

Internet access cannot be considered a luxury. That’s why the overwhelming majority of low-income households have access to a wide range of heavily discounted broadband services, such as Rogers Connected for Success, TELUS Internet for Good, or nationally under ISED’s Connecting Families umbrella.

Unfortunately, we have learned that it isn’t enough to offer low-priced computers and $10 per month broadband. Indeed, as Georgetown University economist Scott Wallsten writes [pdf, 1.8MB], the FCC conducted studies associated with its Broadband Lifeline service testing “consumer responses to a range of issues, including preferences for speed, the effects of different levels and types of discounts” Surprisingly, the FCC found “only about ten percent of the expected number of households signed up, even with the price of one plan set at $1.99 per month.” The research also found a significant avoidance of digital literacy training classes. “In one project, many participants were willing to forego an additional $10 per month savings or a free computer in order to avoid taking those classes.”

As we continue to make significant progress ensuring all Canadian households have access to broadband, we need to conduct more research to learn the non-price factors that are inhibiting people from connecting to the services at their doorsteps.

It isn’t enough to say that we built it; now we have to make sure everyone comes.

1 thought on “What if you build broadband, but they don’t come?”

  1. Just read your article in Cartt. Digital/Technology illiteracy is high in the town core areas of Muskoka as well as the more rural areas. There were offerings of small seminars at the library but a significant number of these same households, don’t make use of the library. My in-laws do not own a computer, do not have internet, still use a land line. During these past two years it has become increasingly difficult for them to be in society.

    They go to the dentist and are told to sit outside until they text them to come in….they don’t own a cell phone, the receptionist had no idea how to handle them. Assumptions by staff in businesses as well as our government that everyone has access somehow is a pet peeve of mine. They were unable to book vaccine appointments as they had no access to the Ontario.ca website, they couldn’t apply for a demolition permit with the town as everything the town does is online now. The level of frustration as well as fear of identity/money theft has created a level of isolation for those, especially seniors, that are not connected. They were told over the phone that they could go use the computers at the library…..(that they don’t know how to use) and the library was closed…

    My husband and I had no idea how badly they were suffering as they were too proud to ask for help, they had always managed on their own. How many others are there?

    I thought about reaching out to the local literacy group but no one is meeting in person so hard to engage a person that needs to use technology to engage (feels like the definition of insanity going around in circles).

    Do you know of any more national organizations that help access these people?

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top