Expanding Internet Access to Those in Need
During these difficult times, technology and the internet have become especially important. For many of us, it’s how we are able to work, how our kids are keeping up with school and homework, how we access reliable information, and how we can connect with loved ones — all while staying home. But for Torontonians without internet access, the isolation, disconnection and inability to access information is harder than ever.
That’s why the City of Toronto has announced our comprehensive plan to ensure those who need access to the internet — whether to connect with loved ones, access the news, or make appointments and access benefits — have it.
The City has partnered with technology and telecommunications companies to provide free temporary internet access for many of our vulnerable residents, including in the following locations:
Long-Term Care Homes
As visits from family and friends are currently suspended to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in long-term care homes, many residents are not able to connect with their loved ones in person. Wi-Fi hotspots in the homes are making it possible for seniors to stay connected.
All of the 10 City-operated long term care homes in Toronto now have 24/7 Wi-Fi access throughout the buildings. This includes the following 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.
To facilitate physical distancing within the shelter system, the City has opened up new temporary sites. Now, free public Wi-Fi has been made available at five temporary shelter locations, and access to Wi-Fi has been expanded to entire buildings in four permanent shelter locations, for a three-month period (there is free public wifi currently in common areas of all permanent shelter locations).
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 shelter sites will help to bridge this gap during this period.
High-Rise Access in Low-Income Neighbourhoods
A new partnership between the City and telecommunications companies will connect 25 large residential apartment buildings in low-income neighbourhoods with temporary free internet access for one year, with the first buildings starting in early May.
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. Technical solutions and signal strength may vary throughout each building. While the aim of the program is to provide enough coverage and strength to read news, submit online forms, and use messenger apps, the signal strength will be limited and not enable streaming of most media or games.
Cell Phones for Vulnerable Torontonians
The City of Toronto has partnered with a range of organizations, including United Way Greater Toronto, to provide free cell phones and data plans through Telus Mobility for vulnerable Torontonians. The phones and plans are making it possible for residents experiencing challenges to stay connected to community-based social service and mental health providers, when they cannot meet in person. These resources were distributed through FOCUS Toronto service agencies and the Toronto Mental Health Support Plan to program clients, based on assessment of need.
I believe that everyone has a right to be connected to information, supports, and their loved ones, and I will continue to advocate to increase internet access for everyone in our city.