Anti-poverty and net neutrality advocates are hopping mad this week as an explosive report from the Toronto Star circulates, suggesting that city officials may have been influenced by major telecoms to nix a plan that would have provided affordable, high-speed internet access to low-income residents.
“After hearing skepticism last month from members of Mayor John Tory’s executive committee, and amid lobbying of politicians and officials by Canada’s telecom giants, city staff on Tuesday deleted key recommendations from its March 16 update on the ‘ConnectTO’ plan approved in principle by city council early last year,” writes the Star‘s David Rider.
Indeed, a supplementary report on ConnectTO set to go before the Executive Committe on Wednesday recommends that two items from a previous update be deleted.
For whatever reason The Deputy City Manager of Corporate Services and Toronto’s Chief Technology Officer have asked the Executive Committee to remove, among other things, a recommendation to “endorse the proposed creation of a City-owned high-speed Municipal Broadband Network that will, in the long term… help ensure equitable access to broadband internet for residents regardless of their financial means or circumstances.”
— David Moscrop (@David_Moscrop) May 2, 2022
It’s a curious change — one that a rep for the city says was made to clear up some confusing language.
Others think that the report and its recommendations were changed amid pressure from big 3 telecoms like Bell and Rogers, both of which, as the Star notes, appear in lobbying records at City Hall.
Between March 16 and March 30, when the report was changed, Bell sent a letter to the Executive Committee detailing all of its problems with a city-funded Municipal Broadband Network (MBN).
Bell argues that the city is already well-served by broadband networks (like their own) and that creating another would simply be duplicating infrastructure.
🚨 Just a staggeringly unfair move. Don’t ever forget who’s really in power in Canada.
“City records show Rogers Communications and Bell Canada were among firms that lobbied city officials and politicians, with a focus on executive committee members.” https://t.co/Ad51UN6Y7x
— RALLY (@rally_ca) May 2, 2022
The telecom suggests that city officials instead spend money on addressing affordability gaps and helping “identify families in need” to provide them assistance in signing up for existing network services (like their own).
“Funds that had been planned for the creation of an MBN could also be redirected towards social-assistance programs that would subsidize the purchase of broadband connections,” reads the letter’s conclusion.
“This would have a much more direct and positive impact on the City’s most vulnerable residents that have difficulty affording broadband services at any price, no matter how low.”
It appears as though Bell effectively wants the city to hold off on creating its own low-cost internet network, and instead give low-income residents money to subscribe to Bell’s insanely pricey services.
It’s not a great look and, while the letter and all documents set to go before the committee on May 4 are long, wordy and nuanced, people online are more focused on this percieved interference than anything else.
We need a public telecom. The big three crush all competition, they charge stupidly high prices, and they leave low income, rural, northern, and indigenous communities behind. Communication is a need in the 21st century, and it should be a right, same as our healthcare
— Child of the Corn (@ChildofzeCorn) May 2, 2022
Rogers did not publicly file a letter opposing the city’s MBN plans like Bell did, but many are noting Mayor John Tory’s tight ties with the big 3 telecom.
The fact that our Mayor @JohnTory is on the Advisory Board for Rogers should raise huge red flags. He gets PAID by Rogers to be an advisory member to the Rogers family trust. This should always have been a major issue and viewed as conflict to office
— Gail McInnes (she/her) | Black Lives Matter (@gailmcinnes) May 2, 2022
The city itself has been stressing the importance of internet access for everyone since ConnectTO first launched in early February.
Through the program, city staff have been “working to standardize and centralize the governance and administration of its fibre network assets and needs.”
“In the future, ConnectTO also aims to provide the City with longer-term opportunities to leverage any extra network capacity on the City-owned fibre network not used for delivering City Services.
“Access to the internet is essential. As daily life in our city increasingly requires connectivity, Toronto’s residents, visitors and businesses must be able to access and use the internet to its full potential,” reads the program’s website.
“However, internet service options for residents and businesses vary throughout the city, both in terms of quality and pricing. There are also some infrastructure gaps, which result in lower quality connections. These inequalities reflect underlying disparities in infrastructure and market competition, impeding full economic and social inclusion.”
Another kick in the pants for those struggling to survive in Canada’s most expensive city ! Oh, and of course the corrupt @JohnTory‘s pals at @rogers @Bell lobbied against it ! Just remember this is the same guy who criminalizes homelessness ugh #ODSP #UBIhttps://t.co/eg0XOHLQ0m pic.twitter.com/gYldVq9HFJ
— Azorean69 (@Azorean691) May 2, 2022
Canada consistently tops world rankings for the most-expensive internet and wireless services on the planet — a phenomena that many experts have attributed to the country’s telecom oligopoly; the unholy trinity; the big 3.
Between them, Telus, Rogers and Bell control roughly 90 per cent of the wireless market in Canada.