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Digital Divide: Module 9 of 9

Computers and technology are integral in today's information society, but not everyone has equal access to devices and high-speed internet.

"Today, high-speed broadband is not a luxury, it's a necessity." - President Barack Obama

"Internet access is "a basic human right, like access to health care or water." - Mark Zuckerberg

As of February 8th, 2023, this page will no longer be updated and maintained. Some of the content of these pages has been redistributed to other sections of The Learning Portal. If you have any questions, please contact:


Spotlight on Initiatives

Internet for All (ACORN Canada)

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) Canada - Opens in a new window is a national organization that advocates for low- and moderate-income families for causes like income reform and affordable housing. Internet for All - Opens in a new window is ACORN Canada's campaign for accessible digital technologies for Canadians.

The Open Media Organization

Open Media - Opens in a new window is a nonpartisan, non-profit organization in Canada that advocates to keep the Internet “open, affordable, and surveillance-free”. In addition to advocacy they provide informational resources on digital rights for Canadians

Project Loon

Project Loon - Opens in a new window is a network of balloons that provides internet connectivity to people living in areas that are remote or otherwise lacking the infrastructure for internet access.

reBOOT Canada

reBOOT Canada - Opens in a new window is a non-profit organization that refurbishes donated electronics and distributes them to non-profits, charities, and individuals. They also advance digital literacy skills for Canadians.

Renewed Computer Technology (RCT)

Renewed Computer Technology (RCT) - Opens in a new window RCT’s primary focus is extending the life of technology through reuse. We refurbish our donations as much as possible, and redistribute them to schools, charities, not-for-profit organizations, and to low income learners across Ontario. Unusable equipment or equipment that is not in demand at the time of donation is recycled in an environmentally friendly manner under our RCTech RENEW Program.

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Digital Divide and COVID-19

COVID-19 and the immediate shift to everything online brought to light digital divide issues worldwide. Suddenly we were expected to work, attend school, visit the doctor, shop and more, all online. For some this move was welcome and didn't present a challenge, but imagine not having access to the internet or devices inside your home? Suddenly you are cut-off. Perhaps you relied on access through the public library, or through a school library? Perhaps your only access to the internet was through work? Or maybe you do have access at home but there are no options for high speed broadband internet? Read on for more information about the digital divide in Canada during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The Digital Divide

What is it?

The idea of the "digital divide" refers to a division between people who have access and use of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) and those who do not. (van Dijk [2020] - opens in a new window). This technology can include the telephone, television, personal computers, and internet connectivity (digital broadcasting, email, search engines, e-commerce etc.).

In an increasingly digital world, access to technology and the internet means access to opportunity. ICTs offer many advantages: greater access to information, cost reduction in the labour sector, greater connectivity between people, etc. However, digitalisation is not happening equally all over the world. As technology evolves, so does the gap between the demographics and regions likely to have the most vs the least access to said technology.

The word "divide" itself implies a distinct separation between those who have complete access and those who have none. This is misleading as most of the population falls somewhere in between these two extremes, having access in one way or another and using digital technology to a certain extent. (van Dijk). Despite the popularisation of technology and the mass production and distribution of electronic devices and internet access, the divide remains. As do the reasons behind it.

  • Access (or economic) divide refers to the potential that people have to access digital resources. This is where socioeconomic differences between people, communities and countries come into play. Digitization requires costly investments and infrastructure for underdeveloped regions and rural areas. Not to mention the inherent costs that come with purchasing, subscribing to, and operating various technologies on an individual level.
  • Usability divide refers to the skills and training involved in the handling of technology, or the lack thereof. For example, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) states that there are 40 countries in which more than half of their inhabitants do not know how to attach a file to an email. (Iberdrola - opens in a new window)

These barriers are typical of others along axes of marginalizations such as race, gender identity, sexuality, disability, class, age and others. They can take form of things such as: not being able to apply for certain jobs they otherwise qualify for, participate in social activities, utilize online banking or healthcare resources, and present difficulties in completing school assignments which require access to digital technologies.

Providing access to digital infrastructure and the internet, and breaking down the barriers to digital skills means not being left behind in a world where so much of life – learning, working, commerce, and healthcare – happens online. The opportunity to innovate, create, and unlock new economic opportunities has never been greater, thanks in part to technology and global connectivity. But for billions of people without access to our digital world, that’s not their reality today. (World Economic Forum - opens in a new window)

The Digital Divide in Canada

Internet as a Basic Service

In December 2016 the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commision (the Canadian federal regulating agency for broadcasting and communications) ruled that broadband internet is a basic service - Opens in a new window . This means that in addition to telephone services, access to broadband internet at a minimum speed is an essential service broadcast providers must offer, however the CRTC did not address the pricing of access to the internet.

Further reading:

Canadian Statistics

  • 54% of Canadians are working from home due to COVID-19
  • 9 in 10 households have access to broadband internet,
  • 45% are subscribed to unlimited data packages which is up from 41% in 2019, and up from 29 per cent in 2016
  • 51% of Canadians say having access to high-speed internet is critically important, 41% say it’s somewhat important.
  • Data shows a 46% increase in the median average Canadian download speed, from 15.42 Mbps in 2019 to 22.58 Mbps in 2020.
  • Ontario has the fastest speeds, with a median average speed of 51.95 Mbps. Meanwhile, Newfoundland has the slowest speeds on average, at 5.64 Mbps download.
  • Urban areas have average speeds of download: 34.13 Mbps, upload: 10.25 Mbps, while rural connections have average speeds of download: 6.05 Mbps, upload: 1.19 Mbps

Source: Canada's Internet Factbook - Opens in new window