Centretown Buzz: Can Ottawa follow Toronto in creating a city broadband Internet network?

Posted June 21, 2021

ACORN Ottawa turned the front plaza of Ottawa City Hall into an Internet hub on May 27 to demonstrate the lack of access to stable and sufficient Internet faced by many Ottawa residents.

The group’s “Internet 4 All” campaign calls on the city to establish a municipal broadband network that would be community controlled, and would offer $10/month home Internet for low-income and $30/month for moderate-income people at the CRTC’s recommended speed of 50/10 Mbps.

The City of Toronto recently approved a pilot project for a similar city network.

ACORN also called for public wi-fi in all public spaces including bus shelters, LRT, parks, and community centres; and the expansion of programs that offer free or subsidized devices for low-income people.

At the event, the organization for low- to moderate-income families displayed prop laptops showing essential tasks that require Internet access, and provided a free wi-fi station for those needing access or wanting to sign their online petition.

ACORN members already had difficulty affording Internet on limited incomes, said Pascal Kukule, an ACORN member from Sandy Hill, and the pandemic lockdown made that worse by cutting off access to alternatives like the library or cafés. At the same time, “everything we do is now online. We need the Internet for work, school, doctors appointments, keeping in touch with loved ones.”

Ottawa Community Housing tenants are offered Internet at $10/month. However, Kukule said he and his wife and five children found the bandwidth offered was insufficient for their work and school needs. He had to change to a commercial service at $45.80/month so everyone could get online, which he said cut into their food budget.

In a 2019 survey, a quarter of respondents told ACORN they had sacrificed food in order to pay for Internet services and almost one third had made multiple sacrifices.

ACORN member Ray Noyes said that ACORN has been talking to Councillors Jeff Leiper and Theresa Kavanagh, the chair and vice-chair of the City’s Information Technology Subcommittee, about the possibility of a city broadband network. He said both were supportive, although there’s no timeline for such a project.

In early February, the City of Toronto approved ConnectTO, a city-provided Internet broadband network, starting with pilots in three low-income areas of that city.

The pilots are expected to go live later this year, followed by a city-wide launch in 2022. Chattanooga, Tennessee and other American cities support similar municipal networks.

The City of Toronto said the program’s goal is to provide it with a direct voice where broadband Internet is delivered and to reduce Internet costs for vulnerable residents.

The network will use city assets such as fibre, buildings, and rights-of-way in order to lower costs, creating a backbone to which private partners can attach last-mile connections. Any revenue is to be reinvested in the community, such as enabling lower-priced Internet for vulnerable Torontonians.

 

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Article by Alayne McGregor for Centretown Buzz

 

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