ConnectTO program aims to increase digital equity and access to affordable high-speed internet in Toronto

The City of Toronto is introducing ConnectTO – a City-driven collaborative program that aims to leverage the use of municipal resources and assets to help bridge the increasing digital divide by expanding access to affordable, high-speed internet to underserved Toronto residents.

Geographically, almost all of Toronto has the infrastructure to connect to the internet, yet some Torontonians are being left behind because of the high price of reliable internet service and gaps in the availability of high-speed internet in some areas. This digital divide creates significant barriers for Toronto's most vulnerable and marginalized residents in accessing vital services and supports. Residents without consistent internet access cannot access information, resources, supports, educational tools and social platforms to stay connected. Businesses trying to compete in a digital-first world are set back by insufficient internet access and are unable to have staff effectively work from home.

In a report going to Executive Committee next week, City staff recommend the creation of a City broadband network. This network would use City assets such as existing fibre assets, buildings, lights, sidewalks and boulevards to address connectivity in underserved areas using a city-wide high-speed internet network, which will be delivered to homes and businesses by a private sector partner. Access to the network will be offered to qualified service providers, at a fair price, to generate revenue, which will be re-invested back into communities to expand service to areas without access and help lower internet costs for vulnerable Torontonians.

The ConnectTO program also aims to streamline and update existing City processes to ensure internet connectivity planning, such as installing public Wi-Fi, laying fibre conduits in existing construction work and similar actions, is embedded in the planning and execution of various City initiatives moving forward.

ConnectTO recommends a phased delivery to effectively build the proper foundation for its city-wide deployment. The community areas of Jane and Finch (Humber River-Black Creek), Golden Mile (Scarborough Centre) and Malvern (Scarborough North) are three sites being considered as the first target areas for ConnectTO and are expected to be live starting in late 2021. After a report back to Council at the end of 2021, Phase 2 of the project plans to see the network launched city-wide starting in early 2022.

Access to reliable and affordable internet improves socio-economic opportunities and access to City services for equity-seeking groups and vulnerable populations, nurtures innovation, stimulates Toronto's economic recovery and growth by enabling the digital economy, supports the City's long-term fiscal health by creating valuable City assets and contributes long-term benefits related to the COVID-19 recovery plan.

ConnectTO will be considered at the Executive Committee meeting on January 27 and by City Council at its meeting on February 2 and 3. The report is available at http://app.toronto.ca/tmmis/viewAgendaItemHistory.do?item=2021.EX20.8.

Quotes:

"Having access to a reliable and affordable internet connection is a lifeline for many residents and businesses in Toronto. Without sufficient connectivity, many are left behind by an increasing digital divide – especially during COVID-19, where it has become vital to maintain business operations and access supports and learning. ConnectTO will help to create a digitally connected Toronto, which means everyone can prosper and enjoy a better quality of life." - Toronto Mayor John Tory

"ConnectTO provides the City with an opportunity to solidify Toronto’s position as an innovative technology leader. Initiatives like this help to expand our digital infrastructure and provide equitable access to opportunities for prosperity, services and supports for residents and businesses throughout this pandemic and into the future.” - Lawrence Eta, Chief Technology Officer

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