The CBC is reporting that the 2014 federal budget, which is scheduled to be tabled tomorrow, will feature money to “extend or improve high-speed Internet access to 280,000 households and businesses in rural and remote areas.” A new commitment to broadband access, which was promised in last fall’s speech from the throne, is certainly welcome. It is also the latest in a long line of commitments for public funding to support to broadband connectivity in rural regions in Canada. Industry Canada claims that the Broadband Canada Program, which ran from 2009 to 2012, provided broadband access to 218,000 Canadian households that previously did not have it (full list of funded projects here).
Given the ongoing digital divide in Canada – there are still many Canadians without access to broadband in their homes – this is a welcome development. Yet spending money on rural broadband initiatives is only part of the solution. In many instances, the absence of broadband in the home is not a function of access, but rather affordability. Statistics Canada reports that Internet use among the richer half of the country is actually over 90 per cent with the top quartile of household income at 94.5 per cent and the second quartile at 90.2 per cent. Internet use among the bottom quartile of Canadians stands at only 62.5 per cent (the third quartile is 77.8 per cent). Governments at all levels must be thinking about both access and affordability.