ConnectTO is a program to increase digital equity, stimulate Toronto’s economic recovery and growth, and solidify Toronto’s position as an innovation leader.
Digital exclusion refers to the barriers faced by low-income and equity-deserving communities in maintaining basic internet connectivity and extracting value from the use of internet-based technologies. Digital exclusion is a key contributor to deficits in health, education, employment and social cohesion.
ConnectTO includes the following pillars:
- Increase digital equity in Toronto by bringing accessible and affordable high-speed internet to underserved Toronto residents
- Stimulate Toronto’s economic recovery and growth by enabling the digital economy and connecting sectors with high-speed internet
- Support the City of Toronto’s long-term fiscal health by creating and leveraging City assets
- Solidify Toronto’s position as an innovation and technology leader, by fostering the tech ecosystem
The Chief Technology Officer will report to the Executive Committee in 2023 on updates on the ConnectTO program.
Background & Current Status
ConnectTO has three areas of focus:
- Free Public Wi-Fi – During the pandemic, the City partnered with the private sector to bridge the digital divide in low-income neighbourhoods by providing free public Wi-Fi to 11,000 residents in 22 large apartment buildings. Free public Wi-Fi is now being rolled out to 280 City community centres and Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) residential facilities, for completion by 2024.
- Policy and Research – ConnectTO works with research partners on digital equity issues and other GTHA and Canadian cities to advocate for solutions that can address the digital divide. Key provincial and federal government policy, legislative, and regulatory changes have been jointly identified and continue to be promoted to other governments to advance the needs of local residents.
- Improving the City’s municipally-owned fibre network – The City owns and operates fibre optic network infrastructure to deliver City services in critical areas such as water, transit and traffic management. Currently, the City’s operations are connected through a combination of City-owned and leased fibre network infrastructure. Expanding the City-owned fibre network could limit the current need to lease fibre from the private sector, reduce costs and improve the security, reliability and availability of City services. Excess capacity in the City-owned fibre network could be used – by the private sector – to deliver high-speed internet to residents and businesses to help bridge the digital divide. The City would not directly provide internet services. City staff are completing a business case and comprehensive review of the City’s existing fibre-optic network assets and leases.
Truth, Justice & Reconciliation
ConnectTO staff are collaborating with the Data for Equity Unit to develop the City’s Indigenous Data Governance Strategic Framework. Oversight and development of this policy framework will be led by a First Nations, Inuit and Métis (FNIM) Data and Technology Circle. ConnectTO staff are contributing to a FNIM Terms of Reference and the hiring of an Indigenous Data Governance Consultant, who will conduct primary research to support the framework. The Indigenous Data Governance Strategic Framework will guide City divisions and partners to ensure that Indigenous people’s information is collected according to appropriate legislation, policies and protocols and that the information is managed in ways that recognize Indigenous communities as rights holders.
Equity, Diversity & Inclusion
Digital equity is a key component of the City’s Poverty Reduction Strategy. Barriers to accessing and maintaining household internet impair residents’ ability to participate in the economy, receive essential services, and to participate fully in their communities.
ConnectTO’s equity-focused pillars are intended to alleviate barriers for low-income, precariously-housed, older-adult, and single-family households seeking to obtain and maintain at-home internet services. Initiatives that are being explored by staff include a household broadband subsidy for Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program recipients, and the deployment of universal in-suite Wi-Fi for TCHC’s Seniors Housing Corporation residents.
In 2022 Council directed staff to implement digital equity activities including:
- public Wi-Fi in City locations (recreation centres, parks and TCHC common areas);
- connecting City-owned fibre to improve City operations;
- intergovernmental alignment and advocacy;
- research with Higher Educational Institutes, and
- exploring solutions for seniors and new affordable housing developments.
Director, Digital City
Interim Chief Technology Officer
- ConnectTO Program Update to City Council (EX32.1)