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Rogers Offers Cheaper Internet For Low-Income Households

"It’s no longer a commodity; it's a necessity."

Rogers Communications plans to help 150,000 Canadians get on the web by offering less expensive broadband rates to low-income families.

The company announced Thursday that it will be expanding its affordable internet program to hundreds of housing agencies across Ontario, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Connected for Success started as a pilot program in 2013 with Toronto Community Housing Corp. Rogers worked in partnership with Microsoft Canada and Compugen computers to offer low-income residents in the city internet service for $9.99 and computers for $150.

According to the Toronto Star, only about 20 per cent of public housing units were connected to the internet at the time.

“It’s unfathomable that Canadians are living without internet access today because they simply cannot afford it,” Rob Bruce, President of Communications at Rogers said at the pilot program's launch.

"It’s no longer a commodity; it's a necessity."

Three years later and inaccessibility to the internet is still a problem.

The Canadian Internet Registry Authority reported in 2014 that with 87 per cent of households connected, Canada ranks second among its G8 counterparts in terms of internet access.

By the end of 2015, 91 per cent of Canadians had internet, but only 70 per cent of households earning below $25,000 were connected, according to an Ipsos-Reid survey.

This is part of a larger debate about whether access to internet is a human right.

Later this month the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commissions is set to hold hearings with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) about getting all Canadians access to better telecommunications.

“[The internet]’s no longer a commodity; it's a necessity,” Alejandra Ruiz Vargas, a spokeswoman for ACORN, one of the members of the PIAC, told CBC News.

The sentiment has been echoed by U.S. President Barack Obama and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Mark Zuckerberg addressed the United Nations last year. "Connecting the world is one of the fundamental challenges of our generation," he said at the time.

But for many, the cost of access can be prohibitive. The plan Rogers offered for $9.99 three years ago retailed for $40-$45. ACORN found that more than half of its 400 members opted out of other items in their household budgets to afford broadband service.

Rogers will kick off its current expansion in Ottawa with the Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation, an affordable housing group.

“It's especially important that kids will be able to access the internet from an early age so they can learn and not fall behind,” said Debbie Barton, a manager with Centretown, in Rogers' statement.

There are 533 housing agencies in Ontario, New Brunswick and Newfoundland who offer subsidized housing, and are eligible to partner with Rogers on the program, and all tenants of these groups would be eligible, Rogers said.

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