Appeared in the Toronto Star on November 2, 2013 as Statscan Data Points to Canada's Growing Digital Divide
Statistics Canada released its bi-ennial Internet use survey this week
and while much of the immediate reaction focused on the continuing
growth of Internet use (due largely to increased usage by those aged 65
and older), the bigger story is the ongoing Canadian digital divide that
confirms the strong link between household income and Internet use.
Statscan reports that 83 per cent of Canadians use the Internet, yet a
closer examination of the data reveals a significant gap that is closely
correlated to income. Moreover, the data also shows that Canada's high
wireless prices now play a role in the digital divide, with only a
quarter of lower-income Canadians using Internet wireless services.
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).
The digital divide remains consistent across all demographics with
wealthier households far likelier to use the Internet than poorer ones
regardless of their age. For example, Statscan reports that 47.5 per
cent of Canadians aged 65 and over use the Internet (up from 40.2 in
2010), the biggest jump of any age group. However, there is a major
divide in Internet use based on household income. While 66.7 per cent of
households over the age of 65 in the top half of income use the
Internet, that number drops to only 28.5 per cent for the poorest
quartile of households.
The ongoing battle over the competitiveness and pricing of Canadian
wireless services also plays an increasingly important role in Internet
use. Internet wireless use is easily the fastest growing way for
Canadians to access the Internet - 48.6 per cent of Canadians used
Internet wireless services in 2012, nearly double the 2010 rate of 26.2
Wireless Internet use features the largest difference by age of any type
of access as 84.2 per cent of Canadians between the ages of 16 to 24
have used Internet wireless services, but that drops to 8.7 percent of
Canadians aged 65 and over.
Household income is major factor for wireless Internet use. While 67.8
per cent of all Canadians in the top income quartile have used Internet
wireless services, only 26.4 per cent of the bottom income quartile have
The digital divide in wireless Internet use remains consistent across
different age groups. The 16 to 24 demographic are the heaviest users of
wireless Internet services, but the gap between the rich and poor
remains: 88.3 per cent of the top quartile use wireless Internet
services, but that declines to 26.4 per cent for the poorest quartile.
There is also a major gap among older Canadians with 27.3 per cent of
the top income quartile of Canadians aged 65 and over using wireless
Internet services compared to only 2.5 per cent of the bottom quartile.
Given the digital divide, it is unsurprising that poorer Canadians rely
more heavily on public access points such as libraries to use the
Internet. The biggest user of library Internet access are Canadians
aged 16 to 24, where 21.5 per cent used Internet library access in 2012
(the overall figure for Canadians was 9.7 per cent). When broken down by
income, the number increases to 26.8 per cent for the poorest Canadians
in that demographic, compared to 16.3 per cent for the wealthiest in
If the government is serious about ensuring that all Canadians can
benefit from the Internet, the Statscan data confirms that it must focus
on finding solutions to provide affordable access to lower income
Canadians. This may include fostering a more competitive wireless
marketplace, working with Internet providers to develop programs
targeting lower income earners, and rethinking the decision to cancel
community access programs that remain valuable to many Internet users.
Michael Geist holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and
E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law. He can
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or online at www.michaelgeist.ca.
TagsShareSunday November 03, 2013