Earlier this year the chairman of the U.S. telecommunications regulator, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), challenged broadband providers to come up with ways of getting more low-income Americans on the Internet.

On Wednesday, a group of cable operators and a computer recycler came up with an answer: A program called “Connect 2 Compete” under which cablecos will offer US$9.95 a month service for poor households with a cable connection, and the recycler will sell refurbished PCs and laptops for US$150.

Where’s the leadership in this country?

According to our telecom regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), at the end of 2010 just over 25 per cent of Canadian households didn’t subscribe to an Internet service. Money plays a role. According to a Statistics Canada survey last year, 54 per cent of households with incomes of $30,000 or less didn’t have Internet.

Why is this important? When it launched its digital strategy consultation over a year ago, the Harper government explained that “it is essential that all Canadians have the skill sets to be able to access, use and interpret a growing and increasingly complex range of digital information. As the rapid development and adoption of technology continues, effective participation in the labour market and society will be increasingly dependent on digital skills.”

The Connect 2 Compete initiative is one way the private sector can help. “We have the means of doing the same identification” of the poor,” telecom consultant Mark Goldberg told me. In the U.S., those eligible are families in a federal school lunch program. Here it could be families eligible for the National Child Care Supplement. “We don’t need this to show up as an extraordinary item in the government’s next budget. What we need is leadership, either from the government or an association or member of the [ICT] community.”

Worth thinking about.

(Meanwhile, where is that federal digital strategy?)

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