Editorial: Internet access is not a luxury

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission aims to ensure that all Canadian households have access to high-speed Internet service within 10 to 15 years. It’s a recognition that the Internet is no longer a luxury, but has become a necessity.

“Access to broadband Internet service is vital and a basic telecommunication service all Canadians are entitled to receive,” said CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais as the commission announced plans last week to make broadband Internet service available all across Canada.

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Most of us take the Internet for granted — it works almost in the background — but about two million Canadians have no Internet service or connections so slow they are practically useless.

The CRTC aims to remedy that with the co-operation of telecommunications companies that will have access to a $750-million industry-sponsored fund over the next five years to invest in broadband infrastructure.

The Internet is the conveyor of much that is useless, frivolous, nasty and downright ugly, but it is also an indispensable servant. In 1993, it handled only one per cent of the world’s two-way telecommunications. That grew to 51 per cent by 2000, and by 2007, more than 97 per cent of telecommunicated information was flowing through the Internet. It has changed the way we do almost everything.

Therefore, those without decent access to the Internet are left out. Getting them connected will help erase some of the disadvantages of living in remote communities. Instead of driving for hours to get to a government office, for example, a person can go online to fill out applications for programs or services or express concerns.

Advancement in education no longer need be limited by distance — the Internet allows people to take classes, interact with tutors and write exams from their homes. The Internet expands and creates new opportunities for business. Where health-care services are limited, medical consultations can take place online.

Add to those benefits the immeasurable value of being able to keep strong the bonds with friends and family, and to be aware of what is happening in the rest of the world.

Given the constant stream of inane trivia, fake news and social-media shaming, we can be excused for occasionally thinking we don’t need the Internet. But for all its drawbacks, it is a marvellous development.

“The Internet has revolutionized the computer and communications world like nothing before,” says a posting on the website of the Internet Society.

“The Internet is at once a worldwide broadcasting capability, a mechanism for information dissemination, and a medium for collaboration and interaction between individuals and their computers without regard for geographic location.”

But in rural and remote areas of Canada without good Internet service, that geographic location is a handicap. Just as electricity and landline telephone services came to be known as essential basic services, so too is the Internet, for all its warts and blemishes.

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