Federal government announces high-speed internet for seniors and low-income families

Hundreds of thousands of seniors and low-income families will soon benefit from $20 a month high-speed Internet as part of a partnership between the federal government and more than a dozen Internet service providers, CBC News has learned.

Families who receive the maximum under the Canadian Child Support Allowance (CCB) and seniors who receive the maximum under the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) are eligible for Internet at speeds up to 50 megabits-per-second (Mbps) and 10 Mbps upload, or the highest available speed in their region.

An announcement is expected on Monday, a government source said.

Fourteen ISPs, including Bell, Rogers and Telus, are contributing to the initiative.

The move, part of the government’s Connecting Families Initiative, has been named Connecting Families 2.0. It is both an upgrade and an extension of what the government previously offered with Connecting Families 1.0. Under that plan, announced in 2017, families receiving the CCB could access the Internet for $10 a month.

Data allocation will also increase to 200 gigabytes per month under 2.0.

The $10 per month plan is still available for those who want it.

Data from the Canada Revenue Agency and Employment and Social Development Canada suggest that more than 800,000 households receiving the CCB and hundreds of thousands more receiving the GIS could qualify. Eligible households will receive a letter from the government containing an access code to log in through a secure portal.

The government has set a goal to connect 98 percent of Canadians to high-speed internet by 2026 and 100 percent by 2030.

News welcome, but more help needed: advocates

Having access to the internet at home changed Ray Noyes’ life.

The 66-year-old from Ottawa is a member of ACORN, a group that advocates for low- and middle-income people, and he had no internet for the first year of the pandemic — a time when voices on his TV or radio would emphasize how vital access is.

“I was constantly hearing how important it is not to be isolated during the pandemic,” he said.

“I was told over and over how important it is to have the Internet to prevent social isolation, which is considered very bad, and I found that very frustrating.”

Ray Noyes, seen Sunday in his Ottawa apartment, is a member of advocacy group ACORN. Noyes, who could not afford internet in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, welcomes the government’s plan for high-speed internet at $20/month. (Buntola Well / CBC)

Noyes was eventually able to access the Internet at home through Rogers’ Connected for Success program. He said it has helped him significantly, including with his bipolar disorder and depression.

“It’s been a big difference and it’s helped my mood a lot,” he said.

While Noyes welcomes Connecting Families 2.0, he said he’s concerned the program won’t cover all seniors and low-income families — and those it already covers under the $10-a-day program may not be able to cover the higher costs. pay for faster internet.

“We are concerned that the families who are already in the program will be grandfathered and get that higher speed,” he said.

Marion Pollack, the board chair of the 411 Seniors Center Society in Vancouver, said she shares his concerns.

While she said the enhanced program is a “very important first step,” she wants it extended to all low-income seniors — not just those who receive the maximum amount under the GIS.

“That’s a small minority of low-income seniors,” Pollack said.

“Because it’s only limited to those seniors who receive the maximum GIS, we’re keeping a whole bunch of other seniors on the wrong side of the digital divide.”

Marion Pollack, the board chair of the 411 Seniors Center Society in Vancouver, says she wants to see affordable high-speed Internet access for all low-income seniors, as well as an Internet-use training program. (CBC)

Pollack said internet access is essential to provide seniors with information about COVID-19 vaccines, allowing them to fill out government forms digitally and making it easier for them to stay in touch with family and friends.

But she also wants to see government programs to train seniors in internet skills, including how to protect themselves from online scams, and to provide refurbished or new tablets and computers to low-income seniors.

Pollack said her center saw how essential it is to have access to the internet and digital skills when British Columbia introduced its vaccine passport program.

“We helped seniors fill out the vaccine passport every day,” she said.

Annie Kidder, executive director of Toronto-based advocacy group People For Education, also welcomed the news.

She said online learning during the pandemic has shown that internet speed and quality are a matter of equality.

“If you had two kids at home who were learning online or communicating with teachers online, if you had a stuttering, slow internet, that was a huge problem,” Kidder said.

“It means that in a classroom there isn’t the sense of a gap between who has the better equipment or the faster internet or the easier access, and who doesn’t.”

But Noyes said he’s not sure the government is on track to meet its goal of getting all Canadians online by the end of the decade.

“It may not be enough, soon enough,” he said.

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