Toronto.com: 'Frozen, cutting out, shaky': Scarborough businesses say internet service isn't meeting their needs

Posted July 30, 2021

Complaining about internet — and the companies bringing it to you in Toronto, Bell and Rogers — may already be a Canadian pastime, but some Scarborough residents believe their connections are particularly poor.

They also say their internet connectivity has gotten slower and more unstable during the pandemic, and that is hurting their small businesses.

“It’s been a constant issue,” said Hatim Lashkerwala, whose company, CIG Garment Manufacturing, launched a new line of golf shirts and shorts in 2021.

His internet is fine at home, but whenever Lashkerwala sends clothing designs to Milan from his office near Midland and Lawrence avenues, “it takes me an hour or two hours just to upload my files,” he said.

His third-party internet provider, Lashkerwala said, has “categorically” told him it cannot do better; Bell’s infrastructure in the area is “too old.”

When Scarborough business owners, including Lashkerwala, asked John Tory (who used to run Rogers) for help, Toronto’s mayor said he’d investigate personally.

Tory often describes Scarborough as a place harmed by decades of underinvestment, including in hospitals and public transit.

On July 8, he told Scarborough Business Association (SBA) members he will check the area’s upstream and downstream internet capacities and, though he cannot force them to build more Scarborough infrastructure, will take up the results with Bell and Rogers.

That’s welcome news for Lisa and Jake Briones, who run a small crystal shop, Crystals and Reiki with Lisa B., online, selling solely on Facebook Live.

The Port Union couple have used an app to measure Rogers Ignite service they say is inconsistent, sometimes reaching 500 megabits per second (Mbps) but falling into the 30s or 20s.

“Every day, it’s frozen, cutting out; it’s shaky,” said Lisa Briones.

“People drop off, so you lose sales,” she added.

“We want the product we’re paying for.”

Both big telecom companies say they have recently taken steps to improve local service.

“The pandemic has shown that network technology is the backbone of the Canadian economy,” Zac Carreiro, a Rogers spokesperson, wrote this week, “and we are continually investing in our network to add capacity and manage traffic in real-time, including making significant enhancements to our broadband network in Scarborough since January 2020.”

Responding for Bell, Nathan Gibson said the company now covers 90 per cent of Scarborough’s population with broadband internet access of 100 Mbps or higher, and expects to reach 95 per cent within the next two years using fibre optic installations.

“Our latest build in Malvern, for example, is connecting another 1,300 individual locations with fibre links,” Gibson wrote last week.

Toronto might be seen as “wired,” with 98 per cent of households having internet access, but the city’s own research last year for Mapping Toronto’s Digital Divide showed 38 per cent reporting download speeds below the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s national target of 50 Mbps.

That divide — which Tory told the SBA was more visible in the pandemic as lower-income families at home with children struggled to connect — does indeed affect poorer families disproportionately, with 52 per cent under the target.

Lower median speeds are seen in “several priority neighbourhoods in Scarborough,” according to the city, with 61 per cent of Oakridge and the Golden Mile (the M1L postal code) below 50 Mbps.

Tory said the city is preparing to use its “dark fibre” — a fibre network for emergency services he called “dramatically underutilized” — through a program called ConnectTO to reach underserved areas, including in Scarborough.

Using last-mile connections built by companies, the city anticipates reaching sites in Malvern, Golden Mile, Jane-Finch and Etobicoke North neighbourhoods later this year.

Though ACORN Canada and other advocates have called for ConnectTO to become a large-scale, low-cost Toronto internet provider, Tory said he doesn’t see the program as a competitor with Rogers and Bell.

Rogers said it has offered its own low-cost program, Connected for Success, to more than 35,000 households through 380 partners, including more than 20 in Scarborough.

 

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Article by Mike Adler for Toronto.com

 

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