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COVID-19 Renews Calls for Universal Broadband in Canada

In 2016 the CRTC ruled that broadband internet was a basic telecommunications service and the United Nations even declared it a human right.

The Big Picture: With schools reopening across the country, the COVID-19 pandemic has unveiled another issue that has impacted rural and low-income Canadians for years: access to the internet.

  • With teacher unions and parents raising concerns about a lack of preparation for provincial reopening plans, many students would opt for remote learning if the option was available.

Canada pays some of the highest rates for data and internet usage in the world. This latest call for action comes on heels of rising COVID-19 case numbers and an impending second-wave warned to be inevitable.

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How far is Canada from Universal Broadband?

Currently there is a plan that was introduced during Budget 2019 to implement universal broadband, but many remote and low-income households are still not able to access the most basic internet services.

  • Under the current national target the federal government has aimed to deliver universal internet access in Canada by 2030, with $6 billion worth of investments in rural, remote and northern communities.
  • Minimum speed targets were only able to be achieved by 31% of connected First Nations reserves and 41% of connected rural households.

Zoom University

With university and college students returning for their new semesters mostly online, this new reality for a lot of students is unveiling some ugly realities for many Canadians. The Nova Scotia Teachers Union and many other teachers unions have raised the same issue of the impossible nature of enforcing physical distancing requirements.

  • With access to the internet already being an issue, some students and even teachers have been forced to work from parking lots to connect to hotspot internet.
  • The Canadian Federation of Teachers noted that the impending move to online would result in worsening educational inequality for 74% of Indigenous students and 89% of students living in poverty.

Rising Costs

Cell phone costs take the headlines most of the time, but data usage in general is quite expensive in Canada and growing more expensive during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Canada pays the fifth most for internet in the world and the highest among G7 nations.
  • Canadians on average pay over $82 for 100MBps plans.
  • TekSavvy, with over 300,000 customers in Canada, has raised their prices during the pandemic by as much as $5/month or a 20% increase of low-priced plans.
  • Even the cost of reloading this article could be expensive as OpenMedia suggests here:

Political Gridlock or Bipartisan Success?

A popular issue across all demographics and internet access being so integrated into modern society, from social media to technological advancements, would make it sound like political parties would be clawing at the chance to champion the issue. While that is mostly accurate in the current Canadian landscape, only three of the 4 main federal parties support some form of universal access across the country.

  • The Liberals, Greens and NDP were the only parties to campaign during the 2019 Federal Election on a plan to implement universal internet access
  • With Parliament looking to spark an intense battle with a looming confidence vote on the horizon, we could see more funding for remote and low-income Canadians in the Fall Budget to appease opposition parties
  • As the Conservatives look to play offense and the Greens only holding 3 seats, the Liberals will have to look to the NDP for support, which is where both parties see eye-to-eye on this issue.

Remote Work: the Wave of the Future

With space becoming limited for employers to conduct business, more companies are introducing remote work becoming permanent.

  • Twitter famously announced that all its employees could work from home permanently if they choose, motivating other tech and large companies to follow suit including Canadian tech giant Shopify.
  • More employees find it more convenient to work from home as it eliminates any commuting to work, making jobs more accessible across the country.

The Bottom Line:

Its better for the environment, children in rural and low-income (often BIPOC) areas could benefit educationally, socially and economically, and would combat COVID-19 more effectively. Unfortunately for many students that want to stay safe at home the option is not available.

With tensions rising and fear of a mid-pandemic election, this might force the hands of some political parties to settle their differences to help Canadians in need of universal broadband.