Many Canadians making a low annual income would rather cut back on food, clothing, and health care than consider reducing their telephone or Internet services, according to a report released today by the Ottawa-based Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC).
Telephone services were ranked most highly by the participants in the PIAC study, but Internet services ranked a close second and many were loathe to contemplate a life without them – especially if they had school-age children at home. The study was conducted by holding focus groups with members of ACORN Canada, a national advocacy organization for low and moderate income families, interviews with local organizations often working with low-income clients, and aggregate data about low-income consumers gathered from Credit Canada Debt Solutions. The monthly income of Credit Canada clients involved in the study ranged from $1,315.68 for one-person households to $3,537.78 for seven or more person households. On average, the monthly income of 5,000 clients was $1,776.83.
While many Canadians complain about the cost of their cell phone or Internet bill, many of us are able to accommodate it into the household budget without too much pain. But for the Canadians that PIAC is reporting on here, communications expenses took up 7.67 per cent of their monthly income. In households that had ongoing communications debts, those debts made up as much of one-fifth of their total debt.
PIAC found that most consumers were unwilling to cancel or reduce communications services, even if costs were going up. Instead most would forfeit nights out at the movies, presents for birthdays or Christmas, and other personal spending on adults. Some even went as far to say they’d cut back on food, clothing, and health care rather than do without cell service.
In the report, PIAC makes the case that low-income Canadians should be able to communicate with others – whether it be family or friends or businesses and organizations, and engage in cultural society by accessing news, information, and let’s be honest, funny pictures of cats. It also says this should be affordable enough that low-income earners don’t need to cut back on basic necessities in order to have them. It suggests a guideline of affordable service taking up between four and six per cent of a household’s income. It adds that an affordable service should also give consumers control over their services – being able to choose what meets their needs instead of having a bundle of services forced upon them.
PIAC found that most consumers considered voice communication with call display, contact with emergency and helpline services for free, access to news and entertainment, and ability to find information as important.
To make sure Canadians are getting affordable service, the Telecommunications Act should be updated to make specific mention of it, PIAC recommends. On an annual basis, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) should do research on all major communications services, with the raw data being made publicly available.