Short Steps on Long March to Close Digital Divide: Rogers Breakthrough!

ACORN International Canada Citizen Wealth

New Orleans  When it comes to creating some form of internet equity so that lower income families have access to the internet and can overcome the digital divide, everyone “gets” it, but no one wants to do what it takes to make it happen.

            President Obama on his way to meet the Chinese Premier in California stopped by North Carolina to visit a school and made the case, yet again, that we needed to expand high speed internet access to all public schools and public libraries in the country.  Amen!   But, when it came to the “how” of it, behind the “what” of it, his proposal was that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) should continue or increase the surcharge on consumer telephone bills to pay the freight.

            The FCC is good at collecting money for these programs, but seems lousy still at enforcing its own orders, as I have pointed out numerous times given what they have allowed Comcast to get away with in providing access.  And, the voluntary $10 per month programs they negotiated with Cox Cable and Times-Warner are hardly worth the paper on the press release they put out about them.  We have filed scores of complaints and are still pressing the FCC for action.

            Nonetheless, something is better than nothing, ACORN Canada has moved to spread the campaign for internet access to Canada.  A letter to Rogers Communications produced a call with a key representative who presided over their wireless operations, and in a shocking reversal given the hard-ass resistance from Comcast and other US-based companies, he actually listened, was familiar with the “internet essentials” concept, and surprised us by saying he thought Rogers could do something, and he would get back to us.  Even before the next scheduled session in mid-June, Rogers surprised us even more by announcing unilaterally that they would initiate voluntarily a program of providing internet access to any tenant of public housing in Canada for $10 per month.  Obviously, this is a huge victory and a shot in the arm for a campaign that is only just beginning in Canada.  In fact we are still waiting for responses from the other two major providers in that country, so the focus will shift to them while we see how much real progress we can make with Rogers.

            It’s great that they realize in Canada that this is the right thing to do, but without taking anything away from Rogers Communications quick, positive response, it still makes me think twice.  Not wanting to be stepped on by the hoofs of a gift horse, I can’t escape the conclusion that all of these giant communications companies know that they are sitting on public franchises and spectrum that they are mining for gold, while wittingly creating huge inequalities for lower income families without the ability to pay the charges they are assessing. 

            The companies, be they in Canada, the US, Mexico, or elsewhere are going to continue to pull as much revenue as they can from these public resources, but they must know there is a clock ticking before finally governments are going to foreswear neo-liberalism and put an end to this voluntary baloney and actually regulate the costs and speed of the programs so that all citizens have a fair chance at jobs, information, and the modern world without paying the high tolls that all of these companies are charging on the public internet highway.

Digital Divide & Rogers Audio Blog