In the recent years, it has become apparent that access to high-speed internet is necessary for residents to equitably participate in day to day life. Geographically, almost all of Toronto can connect to home internet, but not everyone has sufficient service. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted gaps, vulnerabilities and the need for internet services to be more accessible and affordable for everyone.
Some Torontonians are being left behind in the digital divide because there are gaps to high-speed internet, leaving some areas underserved. Even in areas where there is high-speed connectivity, high prices effectively result in vulnerable Torontonians being left without adequate access. The City needs to advance socio-economic opportunities for vulnerable populations, which is essential to ensuring greater prosperity for all.
Digital equity and bridging the digital divide is a key principle of the City’s Poverty Reduction Strategy. Access to affordable high-speed internet will address barriers faced by residents participating in the labour force by improving access to economic opportunities. Lower internet prices will decrease barriers, aid financial stability, and improve access to City services for equity-seeking groups. A digitally connected Toronto means people can prosper and enjoy a better quality of life.
At last week’s City Council meeting, City Staff sought Council’s support for a new initiative called ConnectTO, which is a collaborative program that aims to centralize stewardship of municipal resources and assets to deliver the City’s goals on equity and connectivity, including creation of a City of Toronto broadband network. While I’m excited to see our City spearheading such an initiative, I noted a few gaps in their recommendations. As Toronto’s Seniors Advocate, I moved three additional amendments, which included requesting City Staff to:
- expand the City’s Digital Canopy program by extending free WiFi to 25 retirement communities located in Neighbourhood Improvement Areas,
- accelerate the current WiFi pilot that Toronto Community Housing Corporation is explore in select seniors-designated buildings and explore the feasibility of expanding this pilot across all 83 seniors-designated buildings in order to achieve universal internet access.
- request the Federal and Provincial Governments to provide additional emergency funding, if and when existing funding is exhausted, to support the extension of Toronto Public Library’s Seniors Tech Help program past the March 12, 2021 deadline.
Moreover, for a number of years, I’ve been advocating at Council to create a strategy that addresses the digital divide by providing free public WiFi in City parks and squares. Some Torontonians can’t afford to pay expensive telecom bills every month, and as we know, we’ve become even more reliant on internet than ever before. For these reasons, I brought this initiative back at Council and moved this amendment to ensure that every Torontonian has access to this necessity, which is no longer deemed a commodity, nor a luxury.
I’m pleased to announce that each amendment passed and I look forward to working with City Staff to see them through to fruition.