Mapping Toronto’s Digital Divide

This report analyzes Toronto's home internet and device access, quality, affordability, and usage, during pandemic closures of businesses, schools, and community organizations.
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Nisa Malli
Work Stream Manager, Innovative + Inclusive Economy
January 20, 2021
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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.

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Key findings from the report:

  • 98% of Toronto households have home internet access, but 38% of households report download speeds below the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) national target of 50 megabits per second (Mbps). Half of Toronto’s low-income households (52%) and of those aged 60 and older (48%) report download speeds below the national target of 50 Mbps.
  • 34% of Toronto households are worried about paying their home internet bills over the next few months, with rates of worry greatest among low-income, newcomer, single parent, Latin American, South Asian, Black and Southeast Asian residents. Of the 2% of Toronto households not connected to home internet, half are not connected due to the cost, and 61% say it is impacting their ability to access critical services and information.
  • Those aged 60 and older have lower rates of access to home internet (95%) and are more likely to lack a device that can connect to the internet, compared to younger residents.
  • 42% of those in Toronto without home internet access use the public library for access, compared to 16% overall.
  • Toronto households earning under $50,000 have less than one computer for each person (average of 0.7 computers per person),  lower than the national average of 1.0; and 15% of households with less than $20,000 income and 20% of those aged 60 and older do not have a smartphone.

Our Partner

Our Funder

City of Toronto

This project was made possible in part by funding from the City of Toronto. In June 2020, the Mayor’s Economic Support and Recovery Task Force identified opportunities to collaboratively undertake research to address urgent COVID-19 needs with Toronto’s eight universities and colleges through the CivicLabTO program.

Our Contributors

Nisa Malli
Work Stream Manager, Innovative + Inclusive Economy
January 20, 2021
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Mar 30, 2021

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