Canada’s largest city is diverse, vibrant and rich in culture and history. Living and working in Toronto is rewarding but also increasingly expensive. Families, commuters and downtown young professionals struggle with high housing costs, child care and transit costs and with steep cell phone bills – staying connected is a challenge.

An alarming number of Canadians face this struggle: it’s known as the digital divide. Many do not have access, or the resources to stay connected and access information. Let’s take a closer look at how this is affecting Canadians.

The divide in numbers

We’re a connected society. Opportunities are online, your friends and family members are online and increasingly we primarily communicate online. According to StatsCan in 2016, 90 per cent of Canadians own two or more digital devices and 80 per cent own three or more. Over the last 15 years, 59 per cent say their lives are made better because of access to technology. This raises an important question: is technology, texting, talking, surfing and emailing really a luxury or a necessity to succeed?

The Institute for the Future (IFTF) predicts 85 per cent of jobs in 2030 have not yet been invented and many will be dependent on new technologies including augmented and virtual reality. Businesses will begin distributing work across smart machines, software programs, apps and cloud communities allowing a majority of work to be done remotely requiring constant connectivity. Canadians need equal access to the internet now, to acquire the pre-requisite skills necessary in understanding technologies of the future. Without these skills, a large portion of Canadians will struggle to compete in the future career landscape.

The issues beyond connectivity

Connectivity is not only an issue or barrier for new Canadians, but also for the often-assumed “ever-connected” youth. The Toronto Public Library reports that students loiter around their branches long after closing hours to use the free Wi-Fi to complete homework assignments.  Surveys of library visitors show that 27 per cent of users do not have regular access to a computer connected to the internet other than at the library.  With the growing necessity that connectivity is becoming, this is an undeniable trend that demands our action.

Initiatives guiding the way

So, what resources are there?

In Toronto, there are a number of programs leading the way in making connectivity accessible for all. Some great local examples include:

  • The Protech Media Centres, created in collaboration with Microsoft and Humber College, have provided youth with free access to Wi-Fi and speciality software since 2009. This allows young people to explore fields like graphic design, flash animation, web design digital photography to build their skill set and begin establishing a potential career path.
  • DigitalConnection, a City of Toronto program, provides low-income families a space to use computers in community centers throughout the city. The goal is to equip parents and kids with the tech skills they need to succeed in a highly-competitive job market.

Leading by example

London, Ontario has been a leader in this type of initiative with LAWN (London Area Wireless Network), providing free outdoor Wi-Fi in the city core. Beyond giving visitors and locals more access to city information and amenities, it’s especially designed for those without access to data plans.

At BAI, our work is dedicated to providing connectivity for all city-dwellers and commuters. We provide free Wi-Fi in all of the Toronto Transit Commission’s (TTC’S) subway stations through T-Connect. Our work is a small contribution to bridging the digital divide, but it is an issue that requires greater collaboration and coordination with private sector partners and public agencies. Our goal is to bring our expertise in designing, building and operating robust communications networks in confined and complex places. To see if you’re connected, talk to your digital provider.

The key to bridging the digital divide is making sure everyone has access. We recognize that there is more work to be done and we aim to give Torontonians from all walks-of-life better opportunities so they have better access to the information they need to succeed in their goals. This is a part of our greater mission to keep people connected and enrich communities.

By Ken Ranger Chief Executive Officer, BAI Communications Canada