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.

City Council approved phased implementation of the ConnectTO program at its meeting on February 2, 2021, and approved an update with recommendations on the way forward at its meeting 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 City-owned fibre infrastructure’s excess capacity can be used to help bridge the digital divide in the longer-term.

  • Information-gathering to inform Phase 1 procurement was completed in June 2021.
  • Phase 1 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.

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.

  • Free Wi-Fi has been available at all public library branches and TTC subway stations, and most civic centres for many years. It is also available in a small but increasing number of other publicly-accessible places such as Museums, Squares and public spaces.
  • Through the ConnectTO program, the City is examining opportunities to further expand access to free public Wi-Fi. Current examples include:
    • The Digital Canopy project which involves providing free Wi-Fi to residents living in 25 apartment towers
    • A project which is implementing free Wi-Fi in the common areas of City-owned Community Centres and Arenas across Toronto neighbourhoods by 2024.
  • In addition to these programs, free Wi-Fi can also be access from other public locations:

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.

  • 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 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 later in 2022.