Canada can’t afford a digital divide

Businesses are depending on a future workforce who have the right IT skills, but access to basic technology remains a challenge. A call for a national digital strategy.


It is time to update Herbert Hoover’s 1928 promise of prosperity: We need a connected computer for every home.

There are a number of colleagues joining me in a call for universal access to computers starting with ensuring that all households with school aged children have access to a computer with internet connectivity.

Too often, government programs that target broadband have looked at the supply side of the equation, creating subsidies to carriers in rural markets to help offset the cost of building broadband in low density markets. These programs look at leveling the price of broadband services, without a view to its relative affordability.

As a result, there hasn’t been sufficient focus on driving demand by increasing adoption of computers and improving digital skills. Thanks to government initiatives and private sector leadership, Canadians now have access to a broadband service in even the most remote parts of the country.

Virtually every home that has a computer already has an internet connection. However, nearly one in five households in Canada still doesn’t have a computer.

As you might expect, this is heavily skewed by income level. About half of our lowest income homes have no computer; nearly all of our highest income households have at least one computer.

The US has launched a program called Connect2Compete that helps to provide a refurbished computer and low cost internet connection into low income households with school aged children. Various partners help to provide technical support and digital literacy skills development.

We need this kind of program in Canada. The US model shows that the program can be launched without relying on government funding. It is good for the economy; it is good for our communities; and it is the right thing to do.

At the May 2012 Cable Show, NCTA president Michael Powell said “A child without access to the Internet will find life increasingly difficult in the information age”. Without computers at come, low income kids can not be as effective in school as their classmates. Data now shows that teens are doing as much homework online as off-line.

This is a problem that can be fixed.

How can you help?

Each province has an agency that is working to recycle gently used computers to get them into the hands of low income learners. In Ontario, Renewed Computer Technologies (www.rcto.ca) is always looking for computers that your organization may be disposing.

Digital connectivity is actually a bigger problem in urban centres than rural communities. We need to ensure that children in low income households have an opportunity to compete for jobs in the digital economy. You can help get a computer into a deserving home.

You can read more on this and other important industry issues at Mark’s regular blog, Telecom Trends.

2 Comments

  1. The question of a Digital Divide will be moot if Harper signs on to TPP,whose negotiations are being kept secret. The prospect of a $10,000 fine for clicking on the wrong YouTube video ( thereby “violating” someone’s copyright) and having your internet activity subjected to “deep packet inspection” (as is the case in totalitarian regimes such as China and Iran),chills me to the bone. For more information,Google: “Stop the Trap”

    Michael / 7 years ago

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