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Commons committee calls for optional surcharge to subsidize internet for low-income

The Canadian Press logoThe Canadian Press 2021-06-22
a view of a city © Provided by The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — A House of Commons committee is recommending the government consider adding a little extra to internet and wireless bills so those who can afford it can help those having a hard time covering costs.

The Commons industry committee suggests the federal government increase service costs by 50 cents for Canadians who are willing, and able, to afford the extra charge to "come to the aid of neighbours that cannot afford high prices."

The report goes on to suggest the government create a benefit for large band services that would run for the remainder of the pandemic to further drive down costs for low-income earners, seniors, or workers who have lost their jobs.

Unemployed Canadians and seniors are among the lowest online users in the country, based on Statistics Canada data on internet use made public today.

The statistics agency says about six in 10 seniors over age 75 used the internet in 2020, below the national average of just over nine in 10.

Similarly, the agency reports 85 per cent of unemployed workers were internet users last year.

They were among several groups that the agency identified as being part of gaps in a connected Canada where usage has dramatically changed over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Statistics Canada report found that 27 per cent of Canadians spent 20 hours or more online for personal use last year, up from 19 per cent in 2018, not including the hours spent watching streamed content.

Along with rising usage for personal and professional reasons was online shopping: The agency says 82 per cent of Canadians shopped online in 2020, up from 73 per cent in 2018, while spending rose to $84.4 billion last year compared with $57.4 billion two years earlier.

Given rising internet usage, the industry committee in its report made a nod to affordability concerns for telecommunication services. 

The report noted that while prices have been on a downward trajectory in recent years, they are still too high for much of the population with some people having to choose between buying food or wireless services. 

Part of the problem as the committee sees it is that there is no standard for what constitutes an affordable rate, meaning there is no guideline for any initiatives companies and stakeholders embark upon.

MPs says the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission should set that standard to reduce the price of consumer packages.

Tacked on to the end of the report is a call from New Democrats to have the CRTC more actively drive down consumer prices.

"The only definitive way to ensure this is price regulation, which was used previously in the telecom market to successfully build a universal and, at that time, affordable landline service," the NDP opinion reads.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 22, 2021.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

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