How TELUS Internet for Good means digital equality for low-income families

Vancouver moms Reava Connolly and Jessica Taylor find meaningful connection online and with their children.

For Reava Connolly, the green lights on the TELUS wifi modem resting on a narrow counter in her Vancouver apartment mean much more than a gateway to the internet. They are a symbol of what it means to be truly connected.

It’s been nearly four years since Connolly, 42, removed herself from a devastating cycle of homelessness and addiction. This new chapter of her life has seen her move to the city and find housing and healing amid a supportive network of friends and family members.

Bringing her three children back into her life was always the priority as she worked to rebuild the world around her, step by step. Opening a bank account. Paying the rent. Buying groceries. “Normal life stuff,” she says.

Her sons, ages 14, 17 and 23, were excited to be reunited with their mom. But spending time at her apartment was a struggle for the younger two boys.

Living on a disability income meant high-speed internet was a luxury Connolly could not afford. She wasn’t bothered by the circumstances, but her boys are typical teenagers -- keen gamers and active on social media. Critically, they also rely on various websites and digital platforms to help with school.

It was a challenge to get them to visit when the nearest internet was at the public library and a night in with Netflix was replaced by old DVDs.

“For them it was like living in the dark ages. They’d go from having everything at their dad’s house to having nothing at mom’s,” Connolly says.

A solution to Connolly’s problems appeared unexpectedly in October of 2016 in the form of a letter introducing an innovative new program from TELUS. In collaboration with the British Columbia and Alberta governments, the company was offering a low-cost home internet service to financially limited single-parent families like her own.

The program, TELUS Internet for Good, is the first of its kind in Canada and gives qualified households up to 25 Mbps download speeds at a cost of $9.95 per month. Additionally, families can purchase low-cost refurbished laptops and tap into important educational programs such as TELUS Wise, as well as free digital literacy resources through TELUS’ partnerships with a number of local non-profits.

Entirely funded by TELUS, with no government subsidies or costs to taxpayers, the program was developed to empower youth to reach their full potential in an increasingly digital world. In Canada, where kids are on connected devices an average of three hours per day, high-speed internet access is a critical factor in giving every child, regardless of his or her family’s income status, the opportunity to succeed.

A study from ACORN Canada found that home internet connectivity accounts for a seven percent increase in graduation rates. That number has very real consequences in Canada, where 42 percent of families in poverty do not have internet access, according to Statistics Canada.

Alberta Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir says that when it comes to bridging the digital divide, the provincial government welcomes the help from private-sector partners like TELUS.

“Poverty is a complex social issue and collaborative, innovative partnerships are needed to address that,” Sabir says. “Everyone from individuals, families, communities, private and non-profit organizations to government need to come together to address poverty and ensure a brighter future for children and families.”

When the TELUS Internet for Good program launched, Jessica Taylor was among the first in line to the sign up after learning about its existence from Connolly, her neighbour and close friend.

The 33-year-old Vancouver resident is mom to five-year-old Dylan, with a baby boy due this month. She is also a chef by trade, with Red Seal certification in culinary arts, though depression and anxiety have made it difficult to maintain stable employment.

“It’s tough,” Taylor says of the monthly challenge of making ends meet. “All I want is for my child to eat well.”

Taylor recognizes that ensuring her daughter has access to the internet is nearly as critical as feeding her a balanced meal.

Dylan’s Kindergarten teachers already send the little girl home with suggestions on educational apps to download, as well as online learning tools and games. That digital connection will only become more pressing as she grows up.

“When you look ahead, it’s not hard to believe that paper will be obsolete by the time my daughter is an adult. To not have Dylan be able to access all the resources she will need as she continues through school would really be limiting,” Taylor says.

TELUS Internet for Good has given her peace of mind, knowing her children will have the same access to the digital world as their classmates.

For Connolly, the Internet for Good program is one more piece in the healthy life she is building for herself and her boys. She’s found herself eager to learn all that she can about the world around her. She didn’t expect home internet connection to have such an impact, but admits she’s become enamored by the access it gives her to books, news, educational tools and, more recently, school as she looks to embark on a career in counselling. She also regularly checks into online chat groups to talk and share with others who struggle with addiction.

“When you are in your addiction, you cut everyone out and you feel so alone,” Connolly says. “I’ve now learned that connection is everything. So, even if I don’t want to talk to someone, I can go on Facebook and see someone’s uplifting post and I think, yeah, I can do this.”

Nothing, though, compares to the time she shares with her children, whether they are with her at home playing a video game on the laptop or chatting over FaceTime from their dad’s house.

The boys are happy, and so is Connolly. She thinks of others who are struggling to feel so connected and draws from her own well-earned wisdom.

“I want them to know that life doesn’t have to be that way. There is help.”

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