Making low cost data available to all Canadians


Too many Canadians are being locked out of the digital economy by a market that has failed to respond to the demand for low-cost data-only plans. To help addresss the digital divide, on June 13, 2018, the Public Interest Law Centre (PILC), on behalf of its clients, the Consumers’ Association of Canada (Manitoba Branch) and the Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg (the Manitoba Coalition), presented the “CRTC Flex Plan” to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) with the objective of making a low-cost data-only plan available to all Canadians. The CRTC initiated this call for comments after finding that competition in the market was limited with a notable absence of innovative, low-cost data-only plans.

The Manitoba Coalition’s intervention highlighted a report by Carleton University’s Ben Klass and Dr. Dwayne Winseck demonstrating that Canadian prices for standard voice and data plans were the most expensive of all G7 countries and Australia. When it comes to adoption of these plans, Canada once again did not fare well. Of 34 countries Canada ranked 23rd, well below the average as well as behind Australia, the United Kingdom and much of Europe.

High prices and a lack of innovative service offerings create a substantial barrier for low income people in Canada who require data to access essential health, educational and government services and simply to stay connected. The subscription rate for low income Canadians is 68.7%, significantly lower than the Canadian average of 87.9%. While recognizing that the real answer lies in better competition, the current proceeding looks to begin to address this affordability problem.

Bell, TELUS and Rogers, the three major carriers in Canada have submitted proposed data-only plans to the CRTC. Klass and Winseck’s conclude that the high-cost low-data plans of the major national carriers “are disappointing and unlikely to move the needle when it comes to addressing the affordability gap.”

The Manitoba Coalition’s intervention details the barriers for low-income Manitobans, Indigenous people and newcomers which are worsened by limited competition. It includes an alternative plan, the CRTC flex plan, designed to make low-cost data only plans more accessible to all Canadians.

“Our submission to the CRTC details that in the absence of a credible and affordable industry plan, the Commissioners must act to protect the public interest, and especially, low-income Canadians who are being locked out of our digital-based economy and daily activities,” said Gloria Desorcy, Executive Director, Consumers’ Association of Canada, Manitoba.

“We know that Indigenous people in Canada are disproportionately impacted by poverty. Excessive fees for internet and smartphones is yet one more barrier to full participation in our society, and goes against the spirit of reconciliation that we are collectively trying to achieve,” said Damon Johnston, President, Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg.

For more information, see: Data too costly for low-income Canadians: study