All Canadians deserve affordable, high-speed Internet. Because it's 2016.

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"It's too expensive." "It's too slow." "I can't get a reliable connection." All common responses from Canadians when you ask what they think about their Internet service. At OpenMedia, not a day goes by without our getting emails, social media messages, and phone calls from Canadians unhappy with the state of their Internet.

That's why our team wasn't surprised to see the results of a recent CRTC/EKOS survey, which revealed that only one in three Canadians were happy with the cost of their home Internet service -- and that 20 per cent were being forced to limit their Internet usage in order to keep costs down.

Thankfully, we finally have an opportunity to tackle these long-standing problems. The CRTC have recently been holding detailed hearings examining the question of whether all Canadians should be entitled to affordable, high-speed Internet.

There's no doubt that Canada has a lot of catching up to do. The CRTC's current definition of basic services doesn't include broadband or high-speed Internet, but does include an Internet connection "via low-speed data transmission at local rates," along with touch-tone phone service, and a printed copy of the local phone book.

OpenMedia took a straightforward message to these hearings: Canadians deserve better. In our submission we argue that it's time for the government and CRTC to recognize that broadband access is viewed as an essential service by most Canadians.

We're not saying everyone should have a Lamborghini. We're simply saying everyone should have access to the same highways -- because in 2016, the costs of leaving people behind are just too steep for our society and our economy.

Right now, there are two significant groups of people who are being left on the wrong side of our digital divide: Canadians living in rural and remote areas, and low-income Canadians.

Rural Canadians have suffered for years from slow service, sky-high prices, and restrictive data caps that make it impossible to use the Internet in ways urban Canadians take for granted. For example, imagine not being able to stream a Netflix show for fear of using up much of your monthly data allotment, and triggering punitive overage charges.

Broadband is as important to our present and future as the railway was to our past. If Canada is going to realize its full potential, the digital divide between North and South must be bridged to ensure that people in Canada's North can spread awareness of issues facing their communities, represent themselves in national decision-making, and ensure their voices, culture and history can be shared with the rest of the world.

When it comes to low-income Canadians, the picture is just as bleak. A recent survey by the group ACORN revealed that over 58 per cent of its members had to cut back on food or rent to pay their Internet bill. And the government's own statistics confirm that over four in 10 of the lowest-income Canadian families do not have home Internet access -- meaning tens of thousands of Canadian children are growing up in homes without this essential educational tool.

Enough is enough. As we see it, the CRTC faces a fork in the road. We can either continue letting our market be regulated by high-cost telecom giants, or we can take action to ensure that all Canadians can participate in the social and economic benefits of the Internet. You can learn more about our efforts to secure affordable, quality Internet services for all at UnblockCanada.ca

David Christopher is communications manager with OpenMedia, which works to keep the Internet open, affordable, and surveillance-free.

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