Access to the internet is essential. As daily life in our city increasingly requires connectivity, Toronto’s residents, visitors and businesses must be able to access and use the internet to its full potential. However, internet service options for residents and businesses vary throughout the city, both in terms of quality and pricing. There are also some 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.
In 2023, City staff will report back to City Council on how City-owned fibre infrastructure’s excess capacity can be used to help bridge the digital divide in the longer-term.
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.
Through generous donations, the Digital Canopy program was created in 2020 to extend free public Wi-Fi to low-income neighbourhoods by connecting a number of large residential apartment buildings with access for one year to help bridge the digital divide in the pandemic. In 2021, the original donations were charitably extended for another year and the free Wi-Fi network will continue to operate until September 2022.
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. So far, 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.