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.
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.
Phase One Outcome
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.