Blog Post

The 2024 federal budget continues to miss a key opportunity to address digital inclusion

By: Marco Campana
April 18, 2024

This year’s budget is titled “Fairness for Every Generation” so I might expect to see some depth to the government’s approach to digital inclusion compared to last year’s budget. There are bits, but not anything that resembles a needed whole-of-country digital inclusion strategy.

There are some bits here for:

  • digital health infrastructure
  • lowering telco fees around internet and mobile access
  • continuing to expand affordable high speed internet access across the country, money to continue educating kids to code
  • access to digital banking
  • infrastructure money for community centres and libraries where many without internet and device access go to connect, and
  • cyber security investments for “a whole-of-government cyber security strategy” but not a whole-of-Canada cyber security strategy, which is increasingly needed.

It’s not enough. It’s not a digital inclusion plan. As Canadians increasingly can or are expected to access digital health, banking, government services and more, there is nothing recognizing a more comprehensive approach. 

I don’t have much more of an analysis to offer, but have copied the main sections related to digital investments below in case they are of interest. Let me know if I've missed anything.

Chapter 2: Lifting Up Every Generation

2.1 Taking Care of Every Generation

New Health Care Agreements with Every Province and Territory

British Columbia

  • Increase the percentage of people in the province who have access to their own electronic health information; and,
  • Increase the percentage of family health service providers that can securely share patient health information.

Alberta

  • Increase access to primary care by expanding team-based care and enhancing virtual care;
  • Enhance access to digital health services and health information by implementing e-referral services and accelerating the secure exchange of data across the health system;

Nova Scotia

  • Increase access to health care providers by expanding clinic hours in rural and remote communities, and introducing mobile health services and virtual urgent care;
  • Develop digital tools to access health information, book appointments, and access virtual health services.

Ontario

  • Modernize digital infrastructure, including information reporting, collection, and sharing; and,
  • Make health care more convenient, connected, and patient-centred by expanding the availability of electronic health information and increasing the number of health professionals who can securely access and share it.

Saskatchewan

  • Modernize health care systems with health data and digital tools by continuing investments in eHealth and health sector information technology.

Newfoundland and Labrador

  • Increase the number of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who can access their own health record electronically;

Quebec

  • Improve access to family health teams by opening new front-line clinics, make it easier to book appointments through the "Votre Santé" portal, and improve care for patients with rare or chronic diseases;
  • Accelerate digitalization across the health care network to make it easier for patients to access their information and faster for doctors to update charts; and,

2.2 The Best Start for Every Child

Coding Skills for Kids

To succeed in the increasingly digital global economy, kids need digital skills. Learning to code from a young age can set kids up for success, particularly as jobs in technology are set to grow exponentially over the coming years and decades. This gives them a fair chance in the economy of the future.

CanCode is a federal program that, since its launch, has helped over 4.5 million students—from kindergarten through grade 12—to develop coding and digital skills, priming kids for success in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. CanCode's programming has equipped over 200,000 teachers with the tools they need to help their students learn to code.

  • Budget 2024 proposes to provide $39.2 million over two years, starting in 2024-25, to Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada to advance the next phase of CanCode.

Chapter 3: Lowering Everyday Costs

Budget 2024 builds on these efforts and gives people back control over their personal finances and banking choices, with action to cap banking fees and give Canadians better access to digital banking, lower-cost accounts, and stronger consumer protection. 

3.2 Fairer Prices, Fewer Fees

Lowering telecom prices by issuing a new directive for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to improve competition, make it easier to cancel services, and strengthen the protections Canadians have from unfair business practices, such as paying unlocking fees for their cell phone—now, all phones come unlocked.

Directing the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to improve competition and support consumers: Last year, the government issued a new directive to put in place new rules and improve competition in the telecom sector to protect Canadians from unfair businesses practices and to lower prices. In the time since, the CRTC has already increased choice and affordability of high-speed internet services for more than five million Canadian families by requiring large telecom companies to provide competitors with access to their fibre optic networks. 

Cheaper Internet, Home Phone, and Cell Phone Plans

Canadians who want to switch to a cheaper internet or phone plan often encounter discouraging practices from telecom companies, such as cancellation fees which can prevent Canadians from saving money, or making them wait on the phone for hours to speak with customer service. Canadians can also face the end of promotional periods, and higher monthly bills without full awareness of their options.

Whether travelling abroad, changing your phone number, or being late on a payment, the extra fees charged by telecom companies add up, too. Canadians need to be aware of the potential junk fees they could face, and companies need to lower these fees to ensure Canadians can accurately plan how much their cell phone and other telecom services will cost them.

All Canadians should be able to access these essential services at affordable prices.

Additional Cell Phone Fees Are Too High and Add Up

Canadians face all types of fees, over and above typical base costs, from insufficient funds fees to mobile roaming fees to even a fee to change your phone number. These fees add up.

Figure 3.1: Additional Cell Phone Fees Are Too High and Add Up

Note: Information is based on public-facing fee information on Rogers, TELUS, and Bell websites. The range of fees highlight some of the additional fees by the large three telecommunication firms. The application of fees may vary based on consumer plan, location, and service provider. For mobile roaming fees, through the CRTC wireless code, service providers cannot charge more than $100 for roaming per billing cycle unless a customer explicitly agrees to pay more. For phone number change fee generally, there is no cost if done online but there is a cost if done in store or on the phone with an agent.

Source: Rogers; TELUS; Bell.

As announced in the 2023 Fall Economic Statement, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has launched an investigation into international mobile roaming fees and is working with experts to analyze how roaming rates charged by Canadian companies compare to those charged by international telecom companies. The findings of this investigation will be published later this year.

The government has taken significant action to lower the cost of cell phone plans by 25 per cent—a commitment that has now been surpassed. In December 2023, Statistics Canada reported that cell phone plan costs declined by 50 per cent since December 2018.

The Cost of Cell Phone Plans has Fallen 52 per cent, 2016-2024

Note: The cellular services index measures the change in prices experienced by consumers for cellular services, from January 2016 to February 2024. This chart uses a reference period of 2016 to illustrate the change over time. The index is part of the telephone services sub-group of the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

Source: Statistics Canada, CANSIM 18-10-0004-01

The government has also made unprecedented investments to ensure Canadians in all parts of the country, including in rural communities, have access to high-speed internet. The government has committed over $3.7 billion to more than 600 projects to help bring high-speed internet (50 Mbps download/10 Mbps upload) to over 1 million rural and remote households across Canada, including 35,000 Indigenous households.

Expanding High-Speed Internet to Rural Communities

Since 2015, the government has supported the expansion of high-speed internet access for Canadians, including rural communities which have slower and less reliable internet access than in urban centres.

In 2016, 84 per cent of Canadians had access to high-speed internet. By 2022, this figure increased to almost 94 per cent. This has been possible in part because of a significant increase in access in rural areas, moving from 39 per cent to 67 per cent over this period. The government remains committed to its target of ensuring 98 per cent of Canadians have access to high-speed internet by 2026 and 100 per cent of Canadians by 2030.

Expansion of High-Speed Internet to Rural Communities

Note: The graphic presents connectivity rates for years 2016 and 2022 for provinces, and 2020 and 2022 for territories (as available).

Source: CRTC

The government has made significant progress to reduce the cost of internet, home phone, and cell phone plans, and to increase access to these services. We are focusing the next phase of our work on reducing the costs and barriers to switching providers, so Canadians can find better deals:

  • Budget 2024 announces the government's intention to amend the Telecommunications Act to better allow Canadians to renew or switch between home internet, home phone, and cell phone plans:
    • Carriers will be prohibited by the CRTC from charging consumers extra fees to switch carriers.
    • Carriers will be required to help consumers identify plans, which may include lower-cost plans, in advance of the end of a contract.
    • Carriers will also be required to provide a self-service option, such as an online portal, for customers to easily switch between or end plans with a provider.

The CRTC will be responsible for implementing these measures and will consult on specific requirements.

Chapter 4: Economic Growth for Every Generation

$14.4 million in funding to explore the feasibility of the Kivalliq Hydro Fibre Link, an innovative project that would connect northern Manitoba to southeastern Nunavut to provide electricity and internet access to five communities and one existing mine, helping to transition Northern communities off of diesel and connect them to the rest of Canada.

Chapter 5: Safer, Healthier Communities

5.4 Infrastructure for Growing Communities

More Community Centres 

Community facilities, like libraries, cultural and community centres, and recreation facilities, are essential spaces for social interaction where Canadians can come together as neighbours. Recreation facilities help people build healthier lives, improving well-being and longevity. Libraries build literacy and learning, especially for young minds, and provide internet access for people with low incomes who can't afford it at home.

The Green and Inclusive Community Buildings program is providing $1.5 billion to support green and accessible retrofits and upgrades of existing public community facilities, as well as the construction of new publicly-accessible community facilities across Canada.

The program is investing in projects like the retrofit of the Connections Early Years Family Centre in Windsor to make it more accessible and energy efficient, and an upgraded, energy efficient Band Office and daycare facility in Kapawe'no First Nation in Alberta.

  • Budget 2024 proposes to provide $500 million over five years, starting in 2024-25, to Infrastructure Canada to support more projects through the Green and Inclusive Community Buildings program.          

Chapter 8: Tax Fairness for Every Generation

8.3 Effective, Efficient Government

Strengthening Cyber Security

Cyber security is more important than ever as Canadians increasingly interact with and receive benefits from the government via digital services. The government is strengthening its tools to maintain digital services, protect Canadians' information, and improve the resilience of federal agencies in the face of emerging cyber threats.

  • Budget 2024 proposes to provide $11.1 million over five years, starting in 2024-25, to the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat to implement a whole-of-government cyber security strategy. This will help ensure the government is best equipped to combat cyber threats, and quickly and effectively resolve any vulnerabilities across digital government services.
  • Budget 2024 also proposes to provide $27 million over five years, starting in 2024-25, and $2.3 million ongoing to the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC) to enhance its cyber resiliency and ensure the implementation of additional data security safeguards over the long-term.
  • To ensure a common understanding of cyber security best practices and identify areas for priority action to build cyber resiliency, the government also proposes to launch a data governance review of federal financial sector agencies, to be led by the Department of Finance Canada.

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