Toronto was able to build a broadband network throughout the city

ConnectTO would provide cheaper and more accessible Internet throughout the city to bridge the digital divide

Toronto may soon be building its own broadband Internet network.

The program, called ConnectTO, has already been adopted by a business committee, and tomorrow (February 2) the city council is set to debate the idea.

As the pandemic has shown, there is a huge digital divide in the city that leaves many of the most vulnerable residents without education, employment and general social connection.

Municipal broadband would offer cheaper, faster internet and expand the connection to people in the city who fall between cracks in the big telecommunications companies.

“ConnectTO gives the city an opportunity to strengthen Toronto’s position as an innovative technology leader,” said Lawrence Eta, Toronto’s Chief Technology Officer. “Initiatives like this are helping to expand our digital infrastructure and provide equal access to opportunities for prosperity, services and support for residents and businesses throughout this pandemic and into the future.”

On the agenda item, the proposal is careful to say that a Toronto broadband network would not compete with the telecommunications companies, nor would it place the city as an Internet Service Provider (ISP). Rather, it aims to fill gaps in areas that are not serviced.

An urban high-speed broadband network would also create the infrastructure for private businesses to provide Internet in these areas, while the city would offer open access to the network to “any qualified business at a reasonable price to generate revenue.” The proposal would ensure that revenue is reinvested in local communities, enabling lower internet prices for vulnerable Toronto toners.

But OpenMedia, an organization that has advocated for the urgently affordable and accessible Internet during the pandemic, claims that “Big Telecom” is a major threat to the proposal. So they have started a letter writing campaign ahead of tomorrow’s city council meeting.

They have written a form letter urging the Torontonians to send an email to their city council member to support ConnectTO.

“Community-owned broadband is one of the best ways to repair [the digital divide], ”Writes OpenMedia. “It has proven to give people more power to choose their providers, generally cheaper internet bills and not to mention: universal access to high speeds and state-of-the-art fiber internet infrastructure-the kind that Big Telecom does not intend to bring to any Toronto household. ”

This proposal is historic, they argue, and that “Municipalities everywhere will look at the Toronto model and say, ‘If TWO can do it, so can we.'”

If adopted, ConnectTO will be implemented in phases. Locations in Jane and Finch (Humber River-Black Creek), Golden Mile (Scarborough Center) and Malvern (Scarborough North) are the first target areas with a target by the end of 2021.

The goal would then be to launch the network throughout the city by early 2022.


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