We Can’t Let Toronto’s Executive Committee Stop ConnectTO. Part 1 of 2.
We need to show up and support a new municipal broadband effort
The ConnectTO item is an important one for a lot of people in this City and it would be a shame to see it stopped so early in its tracks. It looks like that’s about to happen at Executive Committee on May 4th.
This first post of two is a bit of an alarm bell because people need to know this is happening and plan a bit in the days ahead on what to do.
This post contains: key dates for ConnectTO, core argumentation about why the project should be supported, some of its recent history, some resources to consider as you learn more, and what will be in the second post.
This post is not a technical analysis of the City’s proposed policy approach to developing a municipal broadband network. There are lots of people that know this space well who can and will be doing that in the days ahead, and lots of opinions out there about the nitty-gritty of what’s proposed. Hopefully lots of those start flying around for us to read and learn about together in the days that lead up to May 4th.
Me, I’m a novice in this realm, at best. I got interested in ConnectTO because I’ve been learning and working with Toronto Mesh over the past few years. It’s a cool model that supports an entirely different economy of the internet. It’s also a great place to learn about the internet in a supportive and friendly way. I’ve also been learning from and working with ACORN over the years on this topic. They’ve provided so much great research, and their members have been fighting long, hard, and successfully for more equitable access to the internet for residents across the country. Big gratitude to both groups for their work and the amount of knowledge sharing that they do, both with me and so many others.
You don’t have to be an expert on internet infrastructure or internet access business models to get involved in supporting the ConnectTO program. We’re not short on expertise in this City on how to make good use of ConnectTO.
What we are dealing with here is an executive committee that, despite decades of evidence of market failure in the internet space, seems to have no sense of responsibility for trying to do more at the City level to address the problem. We shouldn’t let that slide.
Some of you already know the drill, but here’s the first set of logistics basics. A week prior to May 4th, which is April 27th, the agenda for the executive committee meeting on May 4th will be posted. This is when you become able to register to do a deputation. So for now, circle both April 27th and May 4th in your calendar, if you’re interested. You can also formally submit a letter to executive committee at that point.
I’ll post more on the logistics of this all in my second post about ConnectTO, which will be after April 27th. That timing for a second post is because we get the staff report about the program on April 27th as well. We’ll want to focus in on the arguments being made there by staff, and the likely counter-arguments that will be used by executive committee members.
This is short. There are literally hundreds of pages of research about equity and internet access problems in Toronto. ConnectTO should not become a conversation about trying to refute that fact, despite some members of executive committee trying to redirect attention there. There are people in Toronto that struggle with internet access. Full stop.
This is a problem that we should try to address through our governments no matter how hard the work is to do so, and no matter how long the record of their lack of interest in solving this problem is (it’s long).
Online school in a pandemic, social supports and contact in a pandemic, government services in a pandemic. It’s hard to fathom that in March of this year, executive committee members decided that they weren’t interested in seeking to address this long-standing problem. That it was comfortable for them to leave it in the box of being somone else’s problem.
Without getting into the specifics of what is being proposed with ConnectTO (that’s coming in the next post) here’s the high-level argument that I can share with you for now. We know we have market failure and competition problems in the current internet provision space. We know we’ve had them for a long time and we know they are complicated. We should also know this topic will take some time to address. The problem falls across multiple government jurisdictions, and involves the CRTC, among others.
So what we should all feel good about, and support, is the City stepping up to see what it can do in this landscape, based on the assets and capacity it has. The approach still needs more time and thought, to be sure. We’ll get into that in the next post, but the big caps lock thing to know and argue is this: it would be a mistake to stop the City trying to help on this matter before their efforts even get off the ground. This program might eventually fail, but don’t let it fail now.
Some Recent History
There is a tonne of stuff that you can read on this project. So much that it’s overwhelming. Rather than dive into the long long long history of this project and topic, let’s just go back to March 30 2022, which is when executive committee halted this program for the first time, on the grounds of needing more information. This more information is the report we’ll be getting on April 27th. To see what will be in that report, you can read the committee decision from March 30th.
I’m going to make a transcript of this session, but for now, you can watch this video of executive committee from March 30th 2022. The item starts at 4:02:20. Mayor Tory isn’t there because he has recused himself on this item. From the item, all of the text in italics is from the item:
The following member(s) declared an interest:
Mayor John Tory — declared a direct or pecuniary interest in accordance with Section 5 of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act as he has continuing involvement in the Rogers family entities and the ConnectTO item could, out of an abundance of caution, trespass into that.
Written Declaration: http://app.toronto.ca/tmmis/viewDeclaredInterestFile.do?id=10856
Some of the back and forth between councillors and staff in this video will be confusing. Try not to get too mired in that and give up. The good part about this video is that staff share an update in it, so you get to see a presentation from staff that helps you understand where things are at. Also, note which councillors are talking and challenging this program and which ones are silent.
To go a bit further back. The ConnectTO program was adopted by City Council last year on February 2, 2021. In between Feb 2021 and March 2022 the City went to tender to try to work with partners on a new business model approach for a municipal broadband network. No one responded to that tender. Which in hindsight is not super surprising given the problem here is market failure, which means government should be stepping in. Which is what ConnectTO is about.
There is a tonne of nuance about this part that I’m admittedly driving by in the interest of keeping it simple and accessible, but this tender with no respondents is a key event that occurred between the February 2021 approval of the program and the March 2022 effort to stop it. It would be weird not to include it. There will be more on this next post. Moving on.
Some Helpful Resources
The February 2021 item is full of great background reading. If you scroll down on that item you’ll see a litany of links, resources, research, reports, letters, etc.
The first one of import is the staff report about the program. It’s in the “Background Information (Committee)” section. That section — and the one that follows “Communications (Committee” has lots more in terms of research and argumentation.
I’m not going to get into a broader listing of resources because the idea overwhelms me. I’ll think about what is helpful and what is noise for the next post.
What’s Coming in the Second Post
There are lots of great and knowledgeable people that are paying attention to this item. In my next post, I’ll round up and share some of their thoughts on what to do next and why. I’ll share any events or actions that are being taken on the item and how to take part. I’ll share a bit more on letter writing and deputing. I’ll also think about some resources that are around that might be helpful, outside of what is living on the City’s website.
You don’t have to wait until that post to get engaged. You can contact your councillor now, even if they’re not on executive committee, to see what they can do to support this item. If you happen to have one of the executive committee members as your councillor (see list below), you could contact them — see here to find out who your councillor is and how to contact them — and ask them what they’re thinking on this item.
More soon : )
Disclaimer: It’s a pandemic, I’m exhausted, as we all are. I can’t think too hard or take too long with anything I’m writing or it gets too heavy. So I always appreciate help with edits/updates/additions/fixes/misses etc.