The City of Toronto has partnered with technology and telecommunications companies to provide free temporary internet access for many vulnerable Torontonians. These partnerships will provide free access for residents in lower-income neighbourhoods, seniors in long-term care homes and clients in many City-operated shelters. These initiatives will allow more people to connect online to social supports and vital services while still complying with directives to stay at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the City encourages Torontonians to stay home as much as possible, people who cannot afford home internet face barriers to receiving public health information, pandemic support services, and emergency income supports and have difficulty staying connected to family and friends. To help extend free internet to low-income neighbourhoods, the City received generous donations from technology and telecommunications companies. These donations will help connect 25 large residential apartment buildings in low-income neighbourhoods with temporary free internet access for one year, with the first buildings deployed starting in early May. These donations include:
- hundreds of permanent mobile access point hardware and contribution of fees for some internet circuits from Cisco Canada
- service management and maintenance from OnX Canada
- fibre and hosting of core infrastructure from BAI Canada
- fibre and single point of presence for internet from Beanfield Metroconnect
- volunteer labour provided by the civic tech community.
Bell will provide free Wi-Fi access in up to 10 of these low-income buildings for six months, waiving all installation and project management fees, to ensure all users can access the service. Bell Mobility is also working with the City of Toronto, and with other shelters, social agencies, and organizations that require emergency mobile communications services to provide complimentary phones, tablets, and airtime.
Technical solutions and signal strength may vary throughout each building, although the aim is to provide enough coverage and strength to read news, submit online forms, use messenger apps, but not stream media/games. Buildings will be identified for this service based on the size and location of the building, proportion of low-income residents and residents without internet access and technology feasibility.
Long-term care homes
The City of Toronto’s Technology Services Division has deployed free 24/7 Wi-Fi access throughout all 10 City-operated long-term care homes: Bendale Acres, Carefree Lodge, Castleview Wychwood Towers, Cummer Lodge, Fudger House, Kipling Acres, Lakeshore Lodge, Seven Oaks, True Davidson Acres and Wesburn Manor. Previously, free Wi-Fi was only available in common areas.
On the advice of Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, visits from family and friends were suspended to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in long-term care homes. To discourage residents from gathering in close quarters, Wi-Fi-enabled common areas were also closed. These new Wi-Fi hot spots will allow residents to stay connected to friends and family who are not able to visit during the pandemic and help alleviate the feeling of social isolation.
Rogers is donating free Wi-Fi for three months to four permanent City of Toronto shelter locations as of April 2020. The Wi-Fi is enabled by fixed wireless access devices to ensure the coverage is available throughout the shelters. Free Rogers Wi-Fi has also been installed in five temporary shelter locations, to help facilitate physical distancing. Since 2018, there has been free public Wi-Fi access in common areas in all permanent shelter locations, which was donated by Rogers, OnX Canada and Cisco Canada.
People experiencing homelessness often rely on public Wi-Fi to access online supports and services and stay connected with loved ones. With the closure of most public Wi-Fi locations, including libraries, malls and restaurants, many vulnerable people no longer have access to the vital supports they need. The delivery of Wi-Fi at these shelter sites will help to bridge this gap and support people to maintain physical distancing and isolation during the pandemic period.
Cell phones for vulnerable Torontonians
The Telus Mobility for Good program partnered with City of Toronto, Toronto Police Service, United Way Greater Toronto and lead community service providers to help vulnerable Torontonians stay connected to mental health and other crisis services during this difficult time. Through this partnership, eligible clients received a cell phone, data plan or a sim card free of charge. Prior to the conclusion of this program, resources provided by TELUS were distributed through FOCUS Toronto service agencies and the Toronto Mental Health Support Plan to their clients, based on assessment of need.
“During this difficult time, it’s imperative that our most vulnerable residents have access to the supports they need and are still able to feel a sense of connection while physically distancing in order to protect themselves. I want to thank all of our technology and telecommunications partners for helping to make this possible by making donations to help those most in need.”
– Mayor John Tory
“We are collaborating with Toronto’s technology sector on a range of creative solutions to support vulnerable Torontonians. These initiatives expand our digital infrastructure to provide access to the technology disadvantaged residents need throughout this pandemic and into the future.”
– Deputy Mayor Michael Thompson, Scarborough Centre (Ward 21), Chair of the Economic and Community Development Committee
“For those who have access to digital devices and the internet, the public health directive to ‘stay home’ may be frustrating and exhausting, but it is manageable. Sadly, that’s not the case for everyone. Today, the City of Toronto announced our comprehensive plan to ensure those who need access to the internet – whether to FaceTime with loved ones or access the news – have it. In Toronto, we continue to work to ensure our COVID-19 response leaves nobody behind”.
– Councillor Joe Cressy, Spadina-Fort York (Ward 10), Chair of the Board of Health
“The City of Toronto is committed to ensuring digital infrastructure is used to create and sustain equity and inclusion in its operations and outcomes. I am pleased that we were able to come together with these organizations to create innovative solutions that helps serve the public interest.”
– Councillor Paul Ainslie (Ward 24 Scarborough-Guildwood), Chair of the General Government and Licensing Committee
“We all know how confusing and stressful this pandemic is, and even those with strong ties to family and friends are finding themselves dealing with feelings of loneliness and social isolation. I can only imagine how difficult and frightening this must all be for individuals without access to connect to the supports they need. I want to thank the City’s Technology Services Division for their work and leadership on this vital project.”
– City Manager Chris Murray
Toronto is home to more than 2.9 million people whose diversity and experiences make this great city Canada’s leading economic engine and one of the world’s most diverse and livable cities. As the fourth largest city in North America, Toronto is a global leader in technology, finance, film, music, culture, and innovation, and consistently places at the top of international rankings due to investments championed by its government, residents and businesses. For more information visit toronto.ca or follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/CityofToronto, on Instagram at instagram.com/cityofto or on Facebook at facebook.com/cityofto.