The City of Toronto is rolling out free internet access to vulnerable residents living in low-income neighbourhoods.

This includes temporary one-year access for 25 large residential apartment buildings in various low-income neighbourhoods, with the first 10 buildings to receive access in early May.

READ: Toronto Secures Over 1,200 Hotel Rooms for Homeless Amid COVID-19

Mayor John Tory says the City has a new partnership with telecommunications and tech companies, who will grant free access for residents in lower-income neighbourhoods, seniors in long-term care homes, and clients in many City-operated shelters.

This move comes as COVID-19 restrictions have forced more essential activities online and, in turn, those who can't afford internet access continue to face barriers to receiving public health information, pandemic support services, and emergency income supports, while having difficulty staying connected to family and friends.

"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," said Mayor Tory. "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.”

City councillor Joe Cressy says vulnerable residents "experiencing challenges" have also been given free cell phones and data plans so they can "stay connected to services and mental health providers."

The phones have been distributed through FOCUS Toronto service agencies and the Toronto Mental Health Support Plan.

“For those who have access to digital devices and the internet, the public health directive to ‘stay home’ may be frustrating and exhausting, but it is manageable. Sadly, that’s not the case for everyone," said Cressy.

"In Toronto, we continue to work to ensure our COVID-19 response leaves nobody behind.”

Bell Canada will provide free Wi-Fi access in up to 10 of the dedicated buildings for six months, while Rogers is supplying free Wi-Fi for three months to four permanent and five temporary shelters in Toronto.

The City says it 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.

The free services are through a collaboratory effort, with support and donations from companies like Bell, Rogers, Telus, United Way, Cisco Canada, OnX Canada, BAI Canada, Beanfield Metroconnect and more, as well as volunteer labour from people working in the civic tech community.

Ontario News