Mayor John Tory said Tuesday that the city will be installing temporary free internet access to some of Toronto’s most vulnerable residents as COVID-19 restrictions force more essential activities online.
"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,” Tory said. “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.”
In a news release, the city pointed out that those who can’t afford internet access face barriers to receiving public health information, pandemic support services, and emergency income supports. They also have difficulty staying connected to family and friends.
Through donations from telecommunications companies, 25 large residential apartment buildings in low-income neighbourhoods will be receiving temporary free internet access for a year. The first building will be connected in early May, the city said.
A number of telecommunications companies are involved in the program, including Cisco Canada, OnX Canada, BAI Canada and Beanfield Metroconnect.
Bell Canada will provide free Wi-Fi access in up to 10 of the buildings for six months. Volunteer labour is also being provided by the civic tech community.
The city has already installed free Wi-Fi access throughout the 10 long-term care homes that it operates. Previously Wi-Fi- was only available in the common areas of those homes.
Four of the city’s permanent shelters will be getting three months of free Wi-Fi access from Rogers, while five temporary shelter locations are also getting free Rogers Wi-Fi.
“People experiencing homelessness often rely on public Wi-Fi to access online supports and services and stay connected with loved ones,” the city said. “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.”
The city noted that Telus has helped provide vulnerable residents with cell phones, data plans or sim cards free of charge.
“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,” the city said.
While public health officials have been imploring people to stay at home as much as possible, they have also urged people to stay connected to others however possible. Education, medical appointments and other types of appointments and key services have also moved mostly online.