What it's like without internet during the COVID-19 pandemic

With governments urging people to stay home and use the internet to stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic, it's worth noting that not everyone has the benefit of space and a portal to the web.

Online parties, streaming sessions out of reach for some low-income Ottawans

A lack of internet access has made it difficult for Chris Prefontaine to keep in touch with friends and family during the pandemic. (Submitted by Sylvain de Margerie)

As governments urge people to stay connected online during the COVID-19 pandemic — rather than in person — low-income Ottawans like Chris Prefontaine don't have that luxury.

Prefontaine, 37, is stuck in a small Caldwell Avenue apartment with a blocked-off balcony, and since he can't afford internet, he has little in way of home entertainment.

Nor has it been easy to stay in touch with loved ones, Prefontaine said. 

"I've been having a rough time, being [unable] to contact family," said Prefontaine, adding he can't afford a phone, either.

"They worry about me, and I worry about them. I have to sometimes ask friends in my building if I can use their wi-fi to contact people because I have no other way of doing that."

During the pandemic, governments and public health officials have recommended people connect virtually to stay in touch, but many can't afford to do that. (The Associated Press/Shutterstock)

'Out of my reach'

Vanier resident Ray Noyes also says he can't afford the internet, and feels left out by officials' current messaging.

A recent tweet from Ottawa Public Health, for instance, says that virtually connecting with others is one of the keys to physical distancing.

"What I often hear on the radio is how important it is for people who are isolated to stay connected and get online and have Zoom and virtual parties," said Noyes.

"That's all out of my reach. I just can't have that, and it's all very frustrating."

Noyes has been working with ACORN Canada, which advocates for low-and-moderate-income families, to pressure the federal government to deem internet access a basic right for all Canadians, regardless of how much they make.

Noyes lives alone in a high-rise apartment building and feels that being able to go online would help him cope with bouts of depression.

"I'm sure I would be less lonely if I had access to the things most people take for granted these days," he said.

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