About the Report
The digital divide in Canada is often described as an urban-rural divide. There are acute disparities in access to broadband internet in many parts of rural and remote Canada, and progress has been relatively slow in closing those gaps. In Toronto — Canada’s largest city, with access to the nation’s fastest internet service— approximately 95% of residents had access to home internet service according to a 2018 Statistics Canada study, an overall access rate equivalent to other urban areas in Ontario, and significantly higher than the 90% access rate outside of metropolitan areas.
However, this overall rate can mask critical dimensions of Toronto’s digital divide — who is not connected and why, and whether the internet access of those who are connected is sufficient and affordable. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunication Commission (CRTC) declared the internet a basic service in 2016, but reliable, affordable, sufficiently fast connectivity, and the devices and literacy needed to use it, is still often plagued by disparities that often map onto other socioeconomic inequalities.
In the COVID-19 pandemic, Toronto, like many other jurisdictions around the world, has experienced varying levels of public service and business closures, or capacity and use limits as part of public health responses to the global pandemic. This included schools, public libraries, employment centres, community drop-in spaces, cafes and restaurants where internet and/or computers are available. At the same time, the need for internet and personal devices, such as computers, smartphones or tablets that enable access to the internet, has expanded as work, education, health care, services and social interactions in general have shifted remotely to reduce in-person interactions. Home internet and internet-enabled devices make it possible for many to isolate or quarantine; to reduce their contacts and risk of illness; and to remain connected to family, friends, work, school and services.
To get an up-to-date and detailed understanding of the digital divide, or rather a series of divides, a joint Brookfield Institute and Ryerson Leadership Lab team surveyed Toronto residents on their home internet and internet-enabled devices, affordability, speed, quality, usage, and the impacts of not having access at home. Our findings, particularly in the context of the digital shift during the pandemic, reinforce the need to continue scaling programs to close the remaining gaps in internet and device access. They also highlight notable gaps in internet quality and affordability along lines of income, age and race that urgently require greater policy and programmatic response.
Read this report to help you:
- Understand the demographics and geographies of who is not connected or cannot afford home internet in Toronto, with comparisons to provincial and national data, how they get online, and where in Toronto they live.
- Unpack the digital divide beyond basic access: speed, affordability, quality, and devices per household member.
- Identify gaps in existing programs and services meant to close the digital divide.