While the country waits for the federal government’s long-promised digital economy strategy, one telecom carrier has decided to take some action.
Rogers Communications Inc. said Monday it will launch a broadband pilot project aimed at providing affordable Internet connectivity to a Toronto community housing agency.
Called “Connected for Success,” the pilot is part of the Rogers Youth Fund program and will help reach the millions of Canadians that don’t have Internet at home.
“We need to invest and develop our youth to ensure they’re digitally ready,” Rogers president Rob Bruce said in prepared remarks to the Canadian Telecom Summit, where he announced the pilot. “We need to bridge the digital divide.
The project will offer $9.99 a month for a cable connection Internet with speeds up to 3 Mbps and usage allowance up to 30 GB to families that qualify. That includes some 58,000 city-owned community housing units, which cover some 175,000 people. Rogers is also working with Microsoft Canada and distributor Compugen to deliver free software and subsidized computer hardware for $150. In the future Rogers will look at wireless opportunities as well.
Burce noted that only 20 per cent of families in Toronto Community Housing units are Internet subscribers, compared to 80 per cent nationally. TCH is the largest social housing agency in the country.
However unlike the U.S. plan, where families have to be cable subscribers to qualify, the Rogers offer is available to all who live in Toronto Community Housing units.
Bruce challenged other providers to follow suit with low-cost connectivity offers.
The plan is start rolling out the project to Toronto Community Housing in early August, and lessons learned help Rogers see how and when it will spread across Ontario where Rogers [TSX: RCI.A] has the bulk of its cable network.
Telecom consultant Mark Goldberg, who is co-organizer of the conference and has long-urged the federal government and the private sector to act on the problem of the digital divide between urban and rural residents as well as the well-off and the poor, called the initiative “outstanding,” particularly because it’s not tied to a family being a Rogers subscriber.
“They’re targeting a market that’s so important.”
Bruce said Rogers particularly wants to make sure that youth from poor families have Internet access because today it’s virtually impossible for them to do their homework or apply for a job without understanding the online world.
In opening the conference, where telecom executives and regulators rub shoulders, Goldberg said “we can’t wait for leadership from Ottawa … we (in the private sector) need to drive a greater degree of digital inclusiveness for call Canadians regardless of their economic station. As such we need programs to increase digital literacy and access for disadvantaged Canadians.
But also, Goldberg said, Canadian businesses need to increase their use of information and communications technologies with each another and with governments.
“We need to inspire Canadians, awakening within them a passion and a vision for a better, digital-enabled future.” That, Goldberg said, is what he and co-conference organizer Michael Sone want to see in a national digital strategy –“vision inspiring passion.”
“And if the government won’t lead let me repeat – it’s up to us in this room to develop and impart the vision and awaken that passion” of the endless possibilities of the digital economy.