Edmonton

Edmonton public school board calls on governments to improve access to internet

Edmonton public school board trustees are calling on governments to bridge the digital divide and treat the internet like a public utility.

‘It should be just like the water in our taps or the streetlight outside of our homes,' trustee says

Trustee Michael Janz says immediate government action is needed to improve internet access. (Lydia Neufeld)

Edmonton public school board trustees are calling on governments to bridge the digital divide and treat the internet like a public utility.

On Tuesday, trustees passed a motion stating that "the internet should be accessible and affordable to all." 

"As we go into online learning, as we need virtual doctors appointments, as our staff may have to work from home during quarantine, as the internet is no longer a nice to have, it is a must have, that the federal government in their COVID-relief here, should do more to treat Internet like a public utility," said trustee Michael Janz, who introduced the motion.

 "It should be just like the water in our taps or the streetlight outside of our homes." 

The motion directs organizations such as the Alberta Schools Boards Association to advocate on behalf of school divisions "for immediate initiatives to increase accessibility and quality and reduce costs of internet for students, staff, and families."

Janz said options to improve access include a municipally-run internet like one recently approved in Toronto to serve low-income families.

But he said there is a need for more immediate initiatives to improve access. 

The motion also directs the board to write a letter of support to the federal government for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre's $50/month Canadian Broadband Benefit — a payment that would reduce internet bills for low-income Canadians.

Janz also expressed support for a campaign by ACORN Canada calling for $10-a-month high-speed internet for families in need. 

Trustee Bridget Stirling said she's heard stories of families driving to parking lots just so children could download assignments; or students sitting in the atriums of buildings to access technology.

She said it's a long-term gap exposed by the pandemic that will remain. 

"You will continue to see those students have less access than their peers when they go home at night," Sterling said.

"They will not be able to go online and access Edmonton Public Library resources the way other children might. They won't be able to do the research for that project that other students might — and that is a continuing deficiency."

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