Gigabit Internet connectivity is a dream not only for pubic school students in their homes, but also in their schools for accessing interactive and graphic-intensive content to bolster their learning.

However, while an increasing number of homes across the country have access to such speeds, some school boards risk certain facilities being left behind, even in the country’s biggest cities, because of old infrastructure.

That includes the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), with over 570 schools and outdoor facilities. While the majority are either on the board’s new fibre optic network or will soon have access to gigabit speeds, several dozen couldn’t be upgraded. Getting only ADSL connectivity through Bell Canada’s legacy phone network, they were only seeing download speeds of around 18 Mbps.

Rogers Communications has come to their rescue. The cable announced Thursday a partnership with the board to bring its Ignite Gigabit service to 20 schools over the next few months in part to show its capabilities compared to the TDSB’s two main service providers, Cogeco Data Services and Bell Canada.

Dirk Woessner, president of Rogers consumer business unit, said at a press conference announcing the arrangement that the company had been talking to the board about ways of improving Internet access with the schools when it came up with the idea to show what it can do and give something back to the community.

Students show Dirk Woessner of Rogers Communications, left, what Gigabit speeds can do. Photo by Howard Solomon

Rogers is picking up the tab for any connectivity from schools to its nearby cable – the so-called last mile – plus installation and modems in the three- year pilot project.

In an interview Peter Singh, chief technology officer of the board said that the problem with the 20 schools is they are in locations that won’t reach to nearby fibre optic networks. There is, however, nearby Rogers coaxial cable. However, Rogers can offer Gigabit service now that it has upgraded its network to the new DOCSIS 3.1 technology. Short for Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification, the new spec supports at least 10 Gbps downstream and 1 Gbps upstream.

Anna Gemmiti, vice-principal of a group nine secondary alternative TDSB schools some of which only get midling speeds now said the upgrade is needed. Using either school or their own computers for looking up information or working on research projects “it’s slow for the students,” she said.

Having faster speeds means teachers can get through lessons faster, and students will learn a lot quicker, she added.

Singh called the project “a game changer” for students.

While all Toronto public schools will have Gigabit access in just over a year, large parts of the province aren’t as lucky. Rogers points out that a November, 2016 provincial report noted that more than 70 per cent of Ontario schools don’t have the recommended minimum bandwidth capacity of 1 Mbps per student, and that 90 per cent of schools have outdated neteworks.

Asked about the digital divide at Thursday’s event, Ontario education minister Mitzie Hunter noted the province has a three year funding program to expand school technology. That includes a $150 million Technology and Learning Fund for buying software and equipment for classrooms and teachers, over $70 million through the Pupil Foundation Grant for computer technology, and special purpose grants. Some funds can be used for network costs.