- 0 Comments
Toronto lagging compared with rest of world, while big players disappoint on bringing cellphone service to subway
Five out of 10. That’s the rating Toronto’s connectivity gets from North American venture capitalists, Mayor John Tory says.
“I’ve always been told as mayor or when I was in the industry that we have the tops in North America,” he said in an interview last week after meeting with a group of the influential investors. “They said, ‘That’s the problem.’ We probably do. But compare us to Korea or Japan and we’ll end up with a different rating.”
Tory is no stranger to connectivity, having overseen broadband and cellphone services as chief executive of Rogers Communications between 1999 and 2003. But the surprisingly negative feedback from people who are a potential source of funding for the thousands of startups in Toronto means he’s going to have to re-evaluate his position and potentially take action.
The venture capitalists pointed to capacity as a problem.
Toronto residents and entrepreneurs are stuck with relatively slow connections and low monthly usage limits by international standards because they’re not yet on the sort of high-capacity fibre broadband that is common in Asia and parts of Europe.
The lag affects everything from individuals and businesses deploying streaming video services to using cloud-based software that requires beefy upload capabilities.
Smaller internet providers such as Beanfield MetroConnect are wiring waterfront condos with the requisite fibre and Bell Canada is in the process of doing the same across the city, but unlimited usage and super-fast speeds remain rare or expensive.
“I’m going to go back to the industry and say, ‘This worries me. I’m not being critical of you, it’s up to you to make the investments you need to make, but I’m worried,’ ” he said.
“I’m not sure the answer lies in government intervention, but it maybe rests in government leadership.”
In a wide-ranging interview on technological issues, Tory talked about how improving connectivity is one of his priorities as mayor. To that end, he’s also disappointed in Canada’s big wireless carriers, Bell, Rogers and Telus, for not yet rolling out cellphone service on the subway.
The three companies began doing so in Montreal last year while Wind Mobile in June launched service in 18 downtown TTC stations. The bigger companies remain obstinate in Toronto because of the involvement of a third party, Australia’s BAI, which has a mandate from the TTC to roll out Wi-Fi and cellular capability.
Tory has talked to the carriers and none of them seem willing to deal with BAI.
“One of those companies — I won’t say which one — said the approach was wrong. They said, ‘They should have come to us and said you do this together because you all have an interest in making this service available to your customers.’ ”
Similarly, efforts to get Wi-Fi rolled out into public spaces may be slow in coming. Councillor Josh Matlow spearheaded the initiative for years, with the issue being debated in council recently, but vocal opposition could bog things down.
“You have never in your life seen an email torrent like what happened from the groups that are concerned about the health effects on everything from children to animals,” Tory said.
Tory is conscious of his potential con- flict of interest in connectivity issues. After becoming mayor-elect last November, he resigned from the Rogers board of directors, although he still plays a role in the company’s family trusts and private boards. Still, he insists his relationship with all players is good.
“If they’re coming to build something in the city, it’s my job to make sure they get looked after,” he said. “If there’s any problem with that in the context of my past employment, then they’ll go and see someone else.”
Tory is also planning to implement another of the American VCs’ suggestions — the creation of a “Tech 20,” or a group of 20 companies and government departments that will act as incubators for new technologies.
Participants in the program would embed startups’ products within small slivers of their organizations, which would give the companies real-world experience as well as marketing clout.
“It gives them the credibility of being able to say, ‘Hey, we’ve got this installed at the city government and they’ve got this many taxpayers or employees or traffic.’ ”