In northern communities like Muskoka we need more affordable internet. But Mélanie Joly, the Minister of Canadian Heritage, is looking for ways to create digital arts funding. One idea is to make ISPs pay fees, despite Canadian internet being the most overpriced in the developed world. With many artists being unable to make it to the end of the year much less claim internet service on their taxes, an ISP price hike to fund the arts would be like shovelling snow from one side of the driveway to the other and saying you got rid of it.
I live in Huntsville, Ontario. The job market here is ugly. The culture of stratification is foreign to what I’d ever witnessed before. To show how an ISP tax would make poverty worse, let me break down the situation in Huntsville.
Remote work is year-round. Local work is not.
The Ontario Works caseload is growing nearly five times as fast in Muskoka as the Ontario average. Most local jobs are part-time or summer only, or both. There is such a labour surplus, employers can be choosy, and they tend to choose youth with secure parents who are on their way to university. The youth on the street learned some surprising coding skills when they were still in school, and using these skills remotely will alleviate their reliance on the adverse job market including the underground sector. Remote workers also bring money into the local economy from further away, increasing the amount of local work available.
The kids in the hood need a voice.
So they’re making rap videos on their phones. Bad upload speed is not their friend. I sure am glad to be a writer; I can do a lot of things on bad internet. I don’t expect everyone to.
Whatever art people are making can be monetized online through sites like Patreon. The marketing takes work, and some people earn more than others. Monetizing art does not have to detract from a job search, and remember there isn’t enough sustainable work to begin with. People are spending time creating content anyways, so why not monetize? Any income that creators can bring in will reduce desperation and subsequent trust in the wrong people. Given the chance, some creators will earn a noticeable income creating Canadian content.
Note that Canadian content should include diverse content that traditional companies can’t find lucrative. Muskoka youth should have a chance to create content that is relevant to them.
The Huntsville library can’t provide affordable service.
For a town of 20 000 in winter, we have an amazing library, with a genealogy room, huge children’s collections and a popular computer hub. Low income people walk into town and stay on the computers for hours and put up with limiting speeds.
When an abusive landlord of mine had cancelled the internet, I had to bring my crappy lappy to work on the library WiFi. My productivity went down by a third. Speedtest.net reported 1–2 Mb download speeds at best, and throughout the day it dropped to .25 and made me reconnect. Upload speed was always less than a Mb. If relying on the library for internet had not been temporary, there is no way I could have used it to work online.
I remember one kid that had outgrown the youth centre was at the library trying to upload videos to YouTube; he said his dad usually came to pick him up before the video finished uploading, but he just kept trying, like there was nowhere else to go. Because there was nowhere else to go. His dad was picking him up because he lived outside of town and he couldn’t walk home when he wanted. His most decent source of internet, the library, wasn’t. When even the library can’t afford better internet, it’s expensive enough.
It is another form of support that youth and the poor need.
In the absence of decent adults, young people rely on each other for support. Don’t think this is good; it makes it difficult for the poor to leave friends who are bad influences on them. You don’t want youth without sustainable work pooling an internet bill at Their-friend-who-has-housing’s place.
It is easier to find local work using the Web.
And you can put more time into it if you can do it from home than if you always have to go to the employment centre or library within office hours.
Ancient computers need free software.
People who can’t afford new computers are still using Windows XP. It’s a security issue by now. Do Avast Antivirus and MalwareBytes still run on Windows XP? Well, Lubuntu would be a faster and safer replacement for Windows XP and it’s free, legally. Even a more user-friendly Linux than Lubuntu would do the job. Families who can’t afford new hardware need new software that is free and lightweight. A reliable internet connection keeps free software up-to-date and secure.
The coworking space can’t even afford space in town.
It’s 40 minutes’ walk through the notorious west end of town, and much of the sidewalk is not actually walkable in winter. Bussing is not reasonable, as the bus arrives at any given location every two hours or worse. Not that it is a free coworking space, but it’s another source of internet nonetheless, and it is hard to access unless you can already afford a car.
New investments are just getting off the ground.
Lakeland Networks has arrived with fibre. It costs $70, and they make you bundle it with a home phone because lol. Their rural service costs $95 for the same deal, and doesn’t reach as far out of town as every resident working here. At least it doesn’t come with data caps.
Lakeland Networks does not go all the way to the next district to service West Parry Sound, but the smart people there do see what value the Internet has to retaining young talent. The municipalities are pooling resources with Vianet to create a rural open access network. The best they will be able to afford is to charge $110 and make you get TV and phone with your internet. That is if proposed ISP fee changes commonly known as an “ISP tax” don’t kill the project.
Back in Huntsville, I have Vianet. You know why I have Vianet? Because they have one cable internet package. It’s just cable internet, it doesn’t even have a data cap, and it’s so simple it would be difficult to cheat me on my bill. It costs $49 for 15 Mb down and 2 up. However, if I wanted livestream-ready upload speeds I might have to go with one of the big companies with the data caps and the wordy contracts and the cheaty bills. There are alternative ISPs who may or may not have cheaty bills. It’s too risky, unless I’m absolutely sure I’ll make back the additional investment, and that’s a deterrent to growth. It doesn’t have to be this way; in the rest of the developed world, it’s not.
Tourists don’t understand why the internet is so bad.
Huntsville loves tourists, and invests so much in seasonal enterprises. Stronger and wider-ranging town WiFi would make Muskoka more user-friendly for tourists, as they use internet to look up directions and find places to visit. This past summer, tourists with data plans were playing Pokémon GO and visiting the Group of Seven murals, but not all tourists realized they would need their own data here. That many expect decent internet around town shows how normal WiFi is in other developed countries, and how little excuse Canada has for keeping it unreachable.
Don’t make it worse.
The Internet provides a world of resources that low-income Muskokans, especially youth, need to climb out of poverty. Already they can barely access these resources. Making internet service more expensive will squish what hope they have of bypassing the limits of the local economy in a legal way. It will squish the creation of Canadian content that these people will find relevant to them, that large companies ignore. No Canadian needs to pay more for internet.
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