City of Toronto should look at building its own high-speed internet network, key city committee says

The City of Toronto should look at building a high-speed internet network with private-sector partners, Mayor John Tory’s executive committee said Wednesday.Members voted unanimously on a show of hands to say city council should proceed with a city staff proposal to build the network using existing city fibre-optic cable and new partnerships with private sector firms.Full city council will have final say next week on the project aimed at helping bridge the digital divide between marginalized and more prosperous Torontonians, starting with test projects in three low-income neighbourhoods — Jane-Finch in North York and, in Scarborough, the Golden Mile and Malvern.“The proposed program is not positioning the city as an internet service provider competitor,” the staff report states. “ConnectTO is meant to complement, not compete with the current landscape, by filling gaps in fibre connectivity to underserved areas.”The pandemic with its emphasis on digital communication and schooling has highlighted the digital divide, the report states. The city can leverage its existing fibre-optic cable to get “a direct voice (in) where broadband internet is delivered and reduce internet costs for vulnerable residents.”The service could be offered in the three neighbourhoods starting later this year. After a report back to council on its progress, “Phase 2 of the project plans to see the network launched citywide starting in early 2022.There is no proposed budget or cost for consumers because the city doesn’t yet know what private sector firms can provide, Lawrence Eta, the city’s chief technology officer, told councillors. BAI Communications Canada, the company that installed Wi-Fi in Toronto subway stations, says it is keen to participate.Studies commissioned by the city showed 98 per cent of Torontonians have home internet. Many among the 2 per cent who don’t are low-income and older.Just under two-thirds of respondents to a survey said they worry about being able to pay for internet, many of them seniors, low-income or racialized. “Although Toronto is home to the fastest internet infrastructure in Canada, there remain quite substantial gaps in internet connectivity, especially among low-income and older adults,” said Sam Andrey of Ryerson University’s Leadership Lab.“We think the pandemic has highlighted the urgent need to close these gaps and we hope that these findings inform your new policies and programs as you try to connect all Torontonians to affordable quality internet.”Tory said he thinks of children, many of them disadvantaged, forced by the pandemic to learn from home via the internet, some with slow speeds or uncertain access. “Sometimes if you fall behind you can’t catch up,” Tory said.Years ago Toronto Hydro Telecom proposed building a citywide internet network. But in 2008, after it built a downtown “One Zone” network that was free for a time, the city sold the telecom utility, and its 400 kilometres of fibre-optic cable, to Cogeco.Executive committee also recommended council launch a new version of CafeTO, the hastily developed, enthusiastically received program to let pandemic-struck eateries and bars expand patios into new public and private space.And plans to build out SmartTrack, the now-downsized transit program that helped get Tory first elected mayor in 2014, will also roll to city council.David Rider is the Star’s City Hall bureau chief and a reporter covering city hall and municipal politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider

City of Toronto should look at building its own high-speed internet network, key city committee says

The City of Toronto should look at building a high-speed internet network with private-sector partners, Mayor John Tory’s executive committee said Wednesday.

Members voted unanimously on a show of hands to say city council should proceed with a city staff proposal to build the network using existing city fibre-optic cable and new partnerships with private sector firms.

Full city council will have final say next week on the project aimed at helping bridge the digital divide between marginalized and more prosperous Torontonians, starting with test projects in three low-income neighbourhoods — Jane-Finch in North York and, in Scarborough, the Golden Mile and Malvern.

“The proposed program is not positioning the city as an internet service provider competitor,” the staff report states. “ConnectTO is meant to complement, not compete with the current landscape, by filling gaps in fibre connectivity to underserved areas.”

The pandemic with its emphasis on digital communication and schooling has highlighted the digital divide, the report states. The city can leverage its existing fibre-optic cable to get “a direct voice (in) where broadband internet is delivered and reduce internet costs for vulnerable residents.”

The service could be offered in the three neighbourhoods starting later this year. After a report back to council on its progress, “Phase 2 of the project plans to see the network launched citywide starting in early 2022.

There is no proposed budget or cost for consumers because the city doesn’t yet know what private sector firms can provide, Lawrence Eta, the city’s chief technology officer, told councillors. BAI Communications Canada, the company that installed Wi-Fi in Toronto subway stations, says it is keen to participate.

Studies commissioned by the city showed 98 per cent of Torontonians have home internet. Many among the 2 per cent who don’t are low-income and older.

Just under two-thirds of respondents to a survey said they worry about being able to pay for internet, many of them seniors, low-income or racialized.

“Although Toronto is home to the fastest internet infrastructure in Canada, there remain quite substantial gaps in internet connectivity, especially among low-income and older adults,” said Sam Andrey of Ryerson University’s Leadership Lab.

“We think the pandemic has highlighted the urgent need to close these gaps and we hope that these findings inform your new policies and programs as you try to connect all Torontonians to affordable quality internet.”

Tory said he thinks of children, many of them disadvantaged, forced by the pandemic to learn from home via the internet, some with slow speeds or uncertain access. “Sometimes if you fall behind you can’t catch up,” Tory said.

Years ago Toronto Hydro Telecom proposed building a citywide internet network. But in 2008, after it built a downtown “One Zone” network that was free for a time, the city sold the telecom utility, and its 400 kilometres of fibre-optic cable, to Cogeco.

Executive committee also recommended council launch a new version of CafeTO, the hastily developed, enthusiastically received program to let pandemic-struck eateries and bars expand patios into new public and private space.

And plans to build out SmartTrack, the now-downsized transit program that helped get Tory first elected mayor in 2014, will also roll to city council.

David Rider is the Star’s City Hall bureau chief and a reporter covering city hall and municipal politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider

Source : Toronto Star More