Cisco Canada and the City of Toronto have partnered to launch Digital Canopy – an investment of more than $1 million of in-kind technology and services to expand WiFi access in some of Toronto’s most vulnerable communities.
Digital Canopy’s free WiFi hotspots enable low-income community members, who may be without reliable internet at home, to access much-needed online resources – whether it’s students taking part in distance learning, supporting remote work, accessing crucial medical and social supports or staying connected to family and friends.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the digital divide in Canada, expanding the economic disparity between those with digital access from those without. In Toronto, the closure of schools, libraries and businesses has led to additional strain on low-income communities who relied on those locations for internet access.
Residents without an online connection also face barriers to receiving public health information and pandemic support services, including emergency income support.
“With the reduced access to many public spaces across the city, now more than ever it is critical we make the digital realm accessible for all,” said Lawrence Eta, Chief Technology Officer, City of Toronto. “Our collaboration with Cisco and other partners has gone a long way towards providing inclusive and accessible internet connectivity in the city and advancing the principles of the City’s Digital Infrastructure Plan.”
Cisco’s Toronto Innovation Labs team and the City brought together network providers, internet service providers and managed service providers to make Digital Canopy a reality and deliver wireless internet access to some of Toronto’s most vulnerable communities. Cisco is deploying its state-of-the-art Meraki WiFi access points to offer fast connections, high user capacity and extensive coverage.
“The pandemic has transformed the way we live, learn and work, while exposing the scale and severity of the digital divide in Canada. Technology and innovation play a critical role in bridging this gap,” said Wayne Cuervo, Director, Cisco Innovation Labs. “Having reliable internet is fundamental for online school and distance learning, remote work and maintaining important social connections. Working in partnership with the City of Toronto and our ecosystem of partners, Cisco is proudly leveraging its technology to help to improve digital access for thousands of Torontonians in priority neighbourhoods.”
The first Digital Canopy site is now live at 200 and 210 Woolner Avenue, enabling internet access for approximately 2,000 residents in this Rockcliffe-Smyth community. Additional sites in a number of neighbourhoods – including Thorncliffe Park, West Hill, Scarborough Village and others – will also receive access under Digital Canopy. By the end of 2020, there will be up to 25 WiFi hotspot sites across Toronto. Digital Canopy has to the potential to connect 6,000 units and approximately 13,000 Torontonians living in low-income residential tower communities with free internet for up to one year.
The $1 million investment of product, services and in-kind technology to expand WiFi access was made possible through Cisco’s Country Digital Acceleration (CDA) Program. The Cisco CDA program has active national and regional level initiatives in 36 countries around the world, and is continuing to provide frontline relief and critical support to digital infrastructure during the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Cisco and the City of Toronto have partnered with Bell Canada, BAI Canada, OnX Canada, Beanfield Metroconnect, Toronto Mesh, Century Concrete Products and Southwinds Engineering Inc., to help make the Digital Canopy possible.