Access to affordable, reliable high-speed internet is essential, as daily life in our city increasingly requires connectivity. However, internet service options for residents and businesses vary throughout the city in terms of quality and pricing. There are also infrastructure gaps, which result in lower-quality connections. These inequalities reflect underlying disparities in infrastructure and market competition, impeding full economic and social inclusion. The digital divide in Toronto is a serious barrier to economic opportunity for residents and small businesses and a threat to the city’s long-term economic growth.

On February 2, 2021, City Council approved the phased implementation of ConnectTO, a collaborative program that leverages municipal resources and assets to deliver on the City’s goals of equity and connectivity. An update to the ConnectTO program with recommendations on the way forward was brought to City Council and approved on May 11, 2022.

  • Standardizing, centralizing and interconnecting City-owned fibre infrastructure to limit the need for the City to lease fibre from the private sector, reducing costs and improving the security, reliability and availability of City services.
  • Continuing to advocate with the provincial and federal government on this topic, and to collaborate with the community and the private sector on short-term opportunities to improve connectivity where most needed.

In 2023, City staff will report back to City Council on how any excess capacity of City-owned fibre infrastructure can be used to help bridge the digital divide in the longer-term.

  • In recognition that the digital divide is a function of many disparities, the City is in the process of developing a Digital Equity Policy. This policy will outline a vision to address these disparities, leading to equality and resilience through inclusive access to technology and the internet.
  • The City partnered with Toronto Metropolitan University, formerlly Ryerson University, to examine digital equity and inclusion needs in Toronto. Findings from this research are available online.  This research work will inform baseline parameters for community and stakeholder consultation, to take place in the future.

Phase One Outcome

  • Information-gathering to inform Phase One procurement was completed in June 2021.
  • Phase One negotiated Request for Proposal  (nRFP) was issued in September 2021 and closed for bids on November 12, 2021. The scope was for a supplier(s) to initiate connectivity in several identified City priority neighbourhood areas in 2022. The nRFP received no bids.
  • City Council approved a report of Phase 1 findings and an approach for leveraging City-owned fibre to improve connectivity at its meeting on May 11, 2022.

Phase One Information Gathering

The City hosted two information-gathering sessions on Thursday, May 20, 2021 and received comments through an online questionnaire related to the pre-tender for ConnectTO Phase One. The staff presentation given at the information-gathering sessions is available for review.

Youth Learning & Work Placement

Through generous donations, the Digital Canopy program was created in 2020 to extend free public Wi-Fi to low-income neighbourhoods by connecting several large residential apartment buildings with access for one year to help bridge the digital divide in the pandemic. In 2021, the original donations were extended and the free Wi-Fi network continues to operate and benefit residents.

In 2021, a Youth Learning & Work Placement program was launched to provide 12 weeks of technology training for up to 15 young adults in the Digital Canopy public Wi-Fi communities. The City of Toronto partnered with the Careers Education Empowerment (CEE) Centre for Young Black Professionals to identify and onboard young adults through various outreach programs in those communities. The program was sponsored by the City of Toronto Youth Development Unit. The networking curriculum content and training support was donated by Cisco Canada.  Facilitated by Toronto Public Library and George Brown College, the program included Introduction to IoT (Internet of Things), Networking Essentials, and Introduction to Wireless, a Mentoring Roundtable with various panelists including City staff, and a virtual tour of the Cisco Innovation Centre.

Despite challenges related to the COVID-19 situation, nine youth successfully completed the program with certification. Upon completion of the program, work placements were arranged by the CEE Centre. Two youths have been placed with organizations that were seeking resource(s) with skillsets acquired in the program. Continuous improvements were applied throughout the program based on feedback, surveys and insights gathered. City staff are exploring opportunities to continue and/or expand the program in the future.