May 1st, 2020
LETTER - The government must use public ownership to end the digital divide for rural and Northern Canada
Dear Ministers Mckenna, Bains & Monsef
I am writing to you today to raise the serious issue of internet access across our region. This pandemic has exposed the digital divide in our country. Right now, in our region, kids are not able to access education, people are facing major barriers in applying for EI, CERB and other government supports, and far too many communities are being left behind. It’s time that internet access be treated as the essential service that it is.
Across Canada, only 27.7% of First Nations and 37.2% of rural communities have access to fast, reliable internet. This crisis has exposed the second-class access to critical infrastructure that many First Nations and rural Canadians live with all the time. My home province of Manitoba has some of the slowest internet speeds in the country, and there are massive coverage gaps in the north. In Garden Hill, online learning is simply not possible. An internal briefing note prepared by Industry Canada highlighted this issue, saying that Northern Manitoba has the worst connectivity in all of Canada.
Your government’s plan to ensure access to stable and high-speed internet for 90% of Canadians by 2021, 95% of Canadians by 2026, and the hardest-to-reach Canadians by 2030 is too little, too late. Internet providers in Canada have consistently gouged consumers. Canada is consistently ranked as one of the most expensive internet providers in the developed world. The ongoing CRTC fight between big internet providers and medium-sized providers shows that the big providers won’t take the necessary steps to ensure that all Canadians have internet access. It’s time for internet access to be treated as the public good it is. Through public ownership, the federal government must build the infrastructure necessary to establish broadband internet and ensure the regulated and affordable delivery of internet. First Nations and Indigenous communities must be involved.
We must commit to equal access to internet for all. People in our region and across the country are counting on us to get it done.
MP Niki Ashton (Churchill--Keewatinook Aski)