Rogers introduces cheap broadband for low-income Toronto residents: Peter Nowak

While only 3 Mbps, it's a good start.

Investors are being cautious in the wake of Rogers' big LTE rollout (Photo: Darryl Dyck/CP)

(Photo: Darryl Dyck/CP)

This year’s iteration of the annual Canadian Telecom Summit, which kicks off on Monday, is pretty wanting in the consumer representation department. Public Interest Advocacy Centre director John Lawford, who is sitting in on a couple of panels, is perhaps the lone voice of the public—Wind Mobile’s two representatives could maybe be included—in what is otherwise an industry love-in. The agitators over at Open Media, meanwhile, confirm they weren’t invited to take part, which is too bad because that definitely would have made for some entertaining proceedings.

The event also isn’t welcoming to the average Joe, with tickets coming in at a whopping $2,542.50—a price tag specifically designed for corporate expense accounts.

Still, some meaningful news sometimes comes from the event. This year, Rogers is kicking things off with “Connected for Success,” a pilot project that will give some of the most disadvantaged residents of Toronto access to cheap broadband. In conjunction with Toronto Community Housing, the company will provide qualifying residents connections of 3 megabits per second and 30 gigabytes of usage for $9.99 a month.

Microsoft and Compugen are also joining in on the project, providing computers at $150 a pop. Some training and technical support will also be included through the Rogers Youth Fund and Rogers Tech Essentials website.

“Rogers has stepped up to create a tremendous opportunity for youth living in Toronto Community Housing,” said TCH president Eugene Jones in a release. “I thank Rogers, Microsoft Canada and Compugen for their leadership in opening the door to new possibilities in our communities, and look forward to working with them to implement this initiative.”

As summit organizer Mark Goldberg has written on several occasions, the price of broadband isn’t the only thing keeping a large swath of the population from getting online. A lack of computers and technical ability are also factors—in Toronto, around 225,000 households don’t have a computer, while in Montreal the number is closer to 300,000 and in Vancouver, 100,000. Programs such as this one, which take a more holistic approach to the problem, are sorely needed.

The company’s plan isn’t perfect. For one thing, 3 Mbps is slow by today’s standards and doesn’t qualify under most definitions of broadband, which generally start at 4 Mbps (the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is aiming for a minimum of 5 Mbps by 2015). It could also be argued that more people would choose to get online if prices were lower overall.

Still, the effort is a good one. A spokesperson for Rogers says the company will likely increase the speed offering over the next year or two. With luck, the company will also expand the project to other parts of its service footprint and spur competitors such as Bell into similar action. Putting funds into self-serving cause marketing is fine and all, but telecom companies can make much more of a difference to the population in general by devoting charity to their core strengths.