In the short term, we need internet rate subsidies and measures to make internet more affordable. In the medium term, we need to join with partners in advocating for municipal broadband.
Be it resolved that:
1) the Edmonton Public School Board advocate for the establishment of municipal broadband, modelled on the example of Connect Toronto and other publicly-owned telecommunications initiatives across North America.
2) That the Edmonton Public School Board advocate to the federal and provincial governments for immediate initiatives to increase accessibility, quality and reduce the cost of internet for students, staff, and families.
- That the EPSB write a letter of support to the federal government for the $50/month “Canadian Broadband Benefit” (CBB) as outlined by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. Further, we would support the Internet for all campaign by ACORN Canada which demands $10/month high-speed internet for low-income families.
- We would ask that these actions be championed by our provincial school board organizations (such as the ASBA and PSBAA) to ensure equitable internet/technology-based learning access for all Albertans.
For example, supporting the CBB as advocated by ACORN Canada and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre would see a payment to reduce internet bills by $50/month for low-income Canadians and those Canadians qualifying for the CERB benefit. It would largely parallel the $50USD benefit recently approved in Congress for Americans facing barriers.
We can do much better. Locally, I am unimpressed by the TELUS Internet for Good program, as it requires proof of family income below $31,120 per year, which is (punishingly) low. This service also only provides a maximum of 25 megabytes of download service, which is below the CRTC's minimum recommended threshold of a 50 megabit connection for a typical household. This program merely offers half of a proper internet connection to the absolute poorest families. This is inadequate, as it is too slow and excludes too many people. TELUS' yearly net income regularly exceeds $1 billion.
WHY DOES THIS MATTER TO SCHOOL BOARDS:
Internet For All is just as important to participation as our school bus system. In late November, I was in a results review meeting with a principal from a lower-income school (here in south-central Edmonton). They shared that one of the barriers their school community faced was access to a telephone, technology, and internet. Some of the families did not even have phones and were unable to be reached. We’ve heard from other school boards across Canada about the digital divide and how some areas lack connectivity.
Provincially, education is compulsory and students must attend. So what happens when we are now shifting to online learning, and some families are unable to attend? I have heard disturbing stories of families having to study or write exams in the parking lot of a McDonalds because they needed to try to tap into other free wifi.
Our families should not have their access to a public utility dependent on the whim of a company. We need the government to take action. First in reasserting their role as a regulator. Secondly, taking leadership in public service.
Many jurisdictions have studied municipal broadband and found that it has not only provided better quality internet at much more affordable prices, but also helped drive down the costs from private internet providers by almost half.
IF TORONTO CAN DO IT, SO CAN WE.
Toronto City Councillors also passed amendments such as:
- Two requests to the CRTC, to finally implement their 2015 plan for opening wholesale access for fibre broadband, as well as force telecom companies to roll over customers’ unused data at the end of their billing cycle.
- Expanding the scope of the project’s exploration to examine public wifi options, prioritize low-income neighborhoods and senior citizens, consult with the community and anti-poverty advocates, and locate existing city-owned infrastructure assets to leverage for connectivity.
Community broadband has already been successful in other municipalities across Canada, such as Coquitlam, BC, Stratford, ON, and Olds, AB. Where it’s been implemented, community broadband has improved customers’ choice of providers, connected entire areas to speeds much higher than average, and often lowered Internet bills overall. Here’s more information about the growing digital divide across Canada from NOW Toronto.
Thinking big picture for school boards:
Public education is the cornerstone of our democracy. Internet connectivity will be a force multiplier for our economic growth and potential in the future.
- What steps as a board can we take to ensure equitably, universal, barrier-free access to connectivity for Edmonton Public Students?
- More broadly, what steps are there that could be taken by partners (especially school boards and local municipalities), to improve access and affordability?
- How could we harness our collective purchasing power in support of our students, staff, or families?
- Albertans have spent millions of dollars connecting our public assets through the Alberta Supernet As taxpayers, we’ve already invested in wiring our public institutions, hospitals, schools, and even LRT lines. Can we turn our broadband or supernet into a hub for families? Can we share our internet after school hours with family? What can we do to help the school be a community hub-- as a physical and digital space?
- What if we stopped thinking about the internet as a public commodity that was up to each individual consumer to “pay to play” but like a “public utility” like our streetlights or library that could illuminate learning, engagement, and possibility for all of us?
Municipal Broadband is achievable.
Some communities have moved towards a municipal broadband model. What could we do to partner with the city and other educational institutions to make Edmonton a hub for the future of telecommunications?
This has enormous potential for all of the partner districts across Alberta that district staff are supporting. I’m inspired by the Cree nation in James Bay -- the Eeyou who helped set up some of the fastest internet anywhere in Canada.
"Fibre-to-the-Home" is in the third phase of its plan to connect 14 communities in Eeyou Istchee and James Bay to a modern network at reasonable rates.
The package that will be offered to Cree communities will include high speed internet with speeds up to 1 Gbps, as fast as anything in Montreal and Toronto, according to Stein, with Distributel.
The package will also include home phone with 12 features and long distance included, and a TV service of more than 100 channels from Canada, the U.S. and around the world. The companies say they will be able to offer the services at prices comparable to similar residential services in Montreal and Quebec City.