Throne speech moves us no closer to connecting Canadians
Fast and affordable Internet still on hold while government chases after Big Tech
23 September, 2020 — Today Governor General Julie Payette delivered the government’s throne speech outlining their plan to “build back better” after the COVID-19 pandemic. The speech acknowledged the adaptability and sacrifice of Canadians who have successfully moved their work, schooling and personal lives online over the last six months, but offered no concrete support for getting the millions of Canadians who have struggled to make that transition connected to fast and affordable Internet.
“There’s no sign of a positive vision for building Canada’s Internet back better in today’s throne speech,” said OpenMedia Campaigns Director Matt Hatfield. “How do you ‘accelerate’ a broadband rollout that’s already fallen far behind? It’s now been 18 months since the Universal Broadband Fund was announced. Three months ago, Minister of Rural Economic Development Maryam Monsef said the Universal Broadband Fund would be opened for applications ‘in the coming days’ - well, 107 of those days have now gone by. How many times will they re-announce the same project, and when will they actually implement it? There’s no sign our government is acting on the urgency of Canada’s growing Digital Divide, or are conscious that our extremely high Internet access costs - amongst the highest in the world - are a very heavy burden at a time of extreme financial duress for Canadians.”
“If today’s speech is any guide, our government is more concerned with regulating people’s speech and creativity on the Internet, than with ensuring everyone has access to it,” said Hatfield. “Many of us are legitimately concerned by the size and influence of Big Tech companies, and we all want to see Canadian creators and news outlets flourish and succeed. But in talking up the need to go after Big Tech, the government is signalling support for the poorly thought through Link and Streaming Tax proposals that Canadian Heritage Minister Guilbeault has been championing in recent months. Guilbeault’s measures will make Big Tech companies even more influential and permanent fixtures of our online lives- while hurting the distribution of Canadian news and creative content. We strongly believe the government should slow down and get wider public input into how to address these issues- while speeding up action on the broadband Internet distribution and affordability challenges we’ve understood well enough for decades.”
Despite including a $2 billion ‘Safe Return to Class’ fund for re-opening schools to implement COVID-related ventilation and health measures, the government’s speech also did not appear to include any funding for connections and devices for students living in poverty who will need to continue their education online. With some schools choosing to re-open fully or partially online, and other schools already grappling with outbreaks in their student bodies and looking at new closures, the absence of this support may be a serious omission if COVID-19’s second wave continues to deepen.
Nearly 20,000 OpenMedia community members have signed a petition or reached out to their MPs this year calling for the government to get everyone in Canada connected to affordable high-speed Internet. Nearly 6,000 people have written Minister Guilbeault directly to protest his proposed link and streaming taxes.
OpenMedia works to keep the Internet open, affordable, and surveillance-free. We create community-driven campaigns to engage, educate, and empower people to safeguard the Internet.