Canada to launch subsidized low-income broadband program

Government will give concessions to telecom companies for participating, source says.

navdeep bains, cheaper internet, low-income broadband

Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains.

Low-Income Broadband:

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The federal government will on Monday announce a national subsidized broadband program aimed at getting low-income Canadians connected, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains will announce the project in a speech at the annual Telecom Summit in Toronto. The program will be similar to the “Connected For Success” commercial effort launched by Rogers in 2013.

Under that initiative, families can get internet service for $9.99 a month from Rogers if they live in non-profit housing units that have partnered with the company. Rogers says it has signed up 16,000 households through 160 partnerships in Ontario, New Brunswick and Newfoundland.

Last year, Telus launched a similar “Internet For Good” program in Alberta and British Columbia.

It is not known what sort of internet service the national program will offer or at what price, but qualifying for it will be tied to the child benefit tax credit, the source said.

Participating internet providers will receive unspecified government concessions in other areas in exchange for potentially cannibalizing their businesses.

Bains’ spokespeople did not return a request for comment.

Rogers’ Connected For Success offers subscribers 10-megabit-per-second download speeds with 30 gigabytes of monthly usage, although the company says it does not charge more for going over. Telus’ Internet For Good, which costs $9.95 per month, gives qualifying subscribers 25 Mbps downloads with 300 GB of usage.

The CRTC in December ruled that broadband internet is an essential service and set 50 Mbps as the minimum download speed that all Canadians should have access to. They should also have access to unlimited usage plans, the regulator said.

About 18 per cent of Canadian households don’t have access to those speeds or data. The CRTC wants to reduce that to 10 per cent by 2021 and to zero in the next 10 to 15 years.

Internet service prices in Canada have been found to be high when compared to peer countries. A study by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre last year found many low-income Canadians were making cuts in basic expenditures such as food in order to pay their telecom service bills.

UPDATE: Consumer and poverty groups are blasting the process behind the government’s program, with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre and Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) saying they have not been consulted.

Pauline Tam, a spokesperson for Minister Bains, has also responded.  “We are still consulting with stakeholders on what that initiative would look like,” she says. “Because this initiative is still a work in progress, it will not be announced by the Minister at tomorrow’s Telecom Summit.”

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