City Council approves program to increase access to affordable high-speed internet in Toronto

Today, Toronto City Council approved ConnectTO – a City-driven collaborative program that aims to leverage the use of municipal resources and assets to increase digital equity and expand access to affordable, high-speed internet to underserved Toronto residents.

By approving the creation of a City broadband network, ConnectTO will help ensure Torontonians are not being left behind because of the high price of reliable internet service and gaps in the availability of high-speed internet in some areas. Bridging this growing digital divide supports Toronto's most vulnerable and marginalized residents in accessing vital services and resources.

The network will be created by using City assets, such as existing fibre assets, buildings, lights, sidewalks and boulevards, and will be delivered to homes and businesses by a private sector partner. Access will be offered to qualified service providers, at a fair price, to generate revenue, which will be re-invested back into communities to expand access to internet service and help lower costs. The program also aims to streamline and update existing City processes to ensure internet connectivity (public Wi-Fi, laying fibre conduits in existing construction work, etc.) is embedded in planning and execution of various City activities.

ConnectTO will be deployed using a phased delivery and will be launched and tested in the community areas of Jane and Finch (Humber River-Black Creek), Golden Mile (Scarborough Centre) and Malvern (Scarborough North) starting in late 2021. Staff may explore opportunities for additional Phase 1 ConnectTO sites. Phase 2 of the project plans to see the network launched city-wide starting in early 2022.

Council recommended the following actions for the project team moving forward:

  • develop a strategic framework, work plan and implement Phase 1 of ConnectTO;
  • develop a digital equity policy as part of the Digital Infrastructure Plan;
  • review business models of municipal broadband delivery, including but not limited to joint ventures and public-private partnerships;
  • examine ways to integrate affordable high-speed internet into all new affordable housing development projects and all large-scale revitalization projects;
  • accelerate the current Wi-Fi pilot at Toronto Community Housing Corporation and explore the feasibility of expanding it; and
  • engage with the City's tech community in an information gathering session, to leverage community expertise
City staff will report back to Council by end of 2021 to provide an update on digital equity, digital access and municipal broadband. The full report is available online http://app.toronto.ca/tmmis/viewAgendaItemHistory.do?item=2021.EX20.8.

Quotes:

“Once launched, the ConnectTO high-speed network will become a vital tool in ensuring equitable access to information, resources, educational tools, social platforms and City programs and services. I am delighted that this project is moving forward, and the City will be leveraging our existing assets for the public’s benefit.” – Toronto Mayor John Tory

“We know that our most vulnerable residents and business are being left behind without fast, reliable and affordable internet. ConnectTO is our opportunity to bridge this gap and provide opportunities for prosperity, services and supports for all. I am very pleased this project is moving ahead and looking forward to the deployment of this innovative city-wide network.” – Lawrence Eta, Chief Technology Officer

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