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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


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 the growing gap between the underprivileged members of society, especially the poor, rural, elderly, and handicapped portion of the population who do not have access to computers or the internet; and the wealthy, middle-class, and young Americans living in urban and suburban areas who have access (from Stanford University's web resource on the Digital Divide - 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; and can take form of not being able to apply for certain jobs they otherwise qualify for, participate in social activities, and presenting difficulties in completing school assignments which require access to digital technologies.

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