06/03/2013 13:52 EDT | Updated 08/03/2013 05:12 EDT

Rogers offers cheap internet to Toronto's poorest youth

Young people who live in social housing in Toronto will soon be able to get broadband internet access for $9.99 a month as part of a pilot project announced by internet service provider Rogers Communications that aims to "bridge Canada's digital divide."

As part of the program called Connected for Success, youth who live in Toronto Community Housing will also be able to buy a computer pre-loaded with software for $150 and will get access to technical support, thanks to Microsoft Canada and Compugen, Rogers announced Monday.

"It's unfathomable that Canadians are living without internet access today because they simply cannot afford it," said Rob Bruce, president of Rogers Communications in a statement.

"With Connected for Success we've taken the first step to connect youth and we urge our competitors, our partners and communities to work with us to bridge Canada's digital divide."

- Read more about why so many Canadian households still don't have internet access

That "digital divide" — a stark difference in internet use among the country's richest and poorest families — was evident in Statistics Canada's 2010 Canadian Internet Use Survey. The survey showed that 46 per cent of households falling in the lowest income quarter — those earning $30,000 or less — had no internet access. In contrast, in the highest income quarter — made up of households earning $87,000 or more — only three per cent lacked internet access.

Eugene Jones Jr., president and CEO of Toronto Community Housing, the largest social housing provider in Canada, said the new program is "a tremendous opportunity for youth living in Toronto Community Housing."

Starting later this year, those who qualify for the program will pay $9.99 a month for internet speeds of up to three megabits per second and will be able to upload and download up to 30 gigabytes per month.

Rogers's cheapest advertised broadband service is about twice as fast — up to six megabits per second and costs $41.49 per month. It allows 20 gigabtyes of usage per month.

Toronto Community Housing will be in charge of determining which of its young residents qualify for the program, based on criteria used to determine whether they qualify for other subsidies.

The municipally-owned housing corporation provides accommodations for 164,000 low and moderate-income tenants in 58,500 households. About 93 per cent of residents have their rent subsidized as part of a program that fixes rent payments at 30 per cent of the family's gross income. The municipal agency also rents out units to low-income earners at "affordable" rates and rents out some units at market rates.

Alison Fitton, a spokeswoman for Roger Communications, said the company is currently in talk with other social housing providers in parts of the country where it offers internet service.