Broadband is Key to Connecticut's Future
Tuesday, August 30, 2022
Broadband is Key to Connecticut's Future
Connecticut's efforts to connect all residents to affordable, high-speed broadband get a $40 million boost when the U.S. Department of Treasury approved the state's plan for using Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund support made possible by the American Rescue Plan Act. Connecticut estimates that there are over 160,000 locations that still lack high-speed internet access in the state.
The Capital Projects Fund was created in the American Rescue Plan Act to help states, territories, freely associated states(1), and Tribal governments respond to the COVID-19 pandemic by supporting critical capital projects directly enabling work, education, and health monitoring, including remote options.
Connecticut Broadband's Starts and Fits
In 2015, Connecticut created the Office of State Broadband within the state's Office of Consumer Counsel to "facilitate the availability of broadband access to every state citizen and to increase access to and the adoption of ultra-high-speed gigabit capable broadband networks." Under the Broadband Policy Coordinator, the Office of State Broadband can collaborate with public and nonprofit entities and state agencies, and may provide advisory assistance to municipalities, local authorities and private corporations for the purpose of maximizing opportunities for the expansion of broadband access in the state and fostering innovative approaches to broadband in the state, including the procurement of grants.
But in early 2016, then-Governor Dannel Malloy sent the General Assembly a budget that would have eliminated $307,250 for the Office of State Broadband. The budget would also cut $2.9 million earmarked for the Connecticut Education Network, replacing state money with a "self-funded model" requiring public libraries and public schools to pay for computer access.
In 2016, Columbia Telecommunications Corporation released A Brief Overview of Broadband Deficiencies in Connecticut with the results from on-the-ground research that found a range of serious broadband challenges in Connecticut, including:
- maximum speeds far less than what businesses need for current operations,
- limited or no affordable competitive options for broadband services,
- growing needs for broadband that will further exceed the current broadband services, and
- long delays in obtaining services.
Despite the findings, the Office of State Broadband faced elimination in budget negotiations.
“We don't need an Office of Broadband. There's no need,” said Senate President Len Fasano (R-New Haven). “I have yet to have one business ever come up to me and say, ‘You know what? we need the state to run the broadband.’ We can't even register motor vehicles correctly. We have no business in that. It's not a core function. We shouldn't be doing it—period.”
Bill Henderson, president of the Communications Workers of America Local 1298, also supported shuttering the office: "I believe government should be concerned with government and business should be concerned with business," he told lawmakers. "This is a place where the state can save money and nobody is going to miss it."
At the time, Bruce Carlson, President and CEO of the Connecticut Technology Council, noted, "Connecticut has more fiber in it than any other place that one could think of. The question really is access to that fiber—and that's a cost question. We have a number of companies, in particular small tech companies that simply have not been able to access the fiber that's available."
Although both the Office of State Broadband and the Connecticut Education Network survived, by 2018, the state's broadband fortunes had not greatly improved. A survey found that 23 percent of Connecticut residents did not have internet access at home—21 percent of those without internet access were white households, 35 percent were Hispanic households, and 34 percent were African American households.
In January 2021, Governor Ned Lamont proposed new legislation setting a goal of connecting all Connecticut residents with access to high-speed, broadband internet by September 2022. The proposal would have allowed the state's Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to require broadband providers to offer access to all residents where the providers have video licenses—a requirement that is currently prohibited. The bill would also have
- streamlined the state's permit process, allowing providers to install broadband on utility poles,
- made sure state agencies had enough staff and resources to partner with providers and municipalities,
- given the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority the ability to oversee user complaints and penalized providers for noncompliance, and
- prevented providers from refusing service to customers due to race, religion, sexual orientation or financial standing, including credit score.
Connecticut Enacts Law for Equitable Access to Broadband
In July 2021, current-Governor Ned Lamont signed Public Act 21-159, which directed Connecticut's Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management to develop and maintain an up-to-date broadband map, with accompanying data, showing the availability and adoption of broadband internet access service in the state, including broadband internet download and upload speeds. The first map is due to be published before December 1, 2022.
The law also promotes the build-out of broadband internet in unserved and underserved areas of Connecticut, particularly in urban centers and rural communities, through a grant program—subject to the availability of federal funding—established and administered by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).
DEEP's Office of Telecommunications and Broadband is focused on developing equitable policies and programs to bring the economic and social benefits of broadband access to the residents and businesses of Connecticut.
In July 2022, DEEP released a request for information (RFI) to identify potential barriers to access and adoption to ensure that everyone living and working in the state has affordable, reliable, and resilient broadband service. Important elements of the programs will include:
- progress toward the state-wide goal of universal access to broadband at speeds of 1 Gbps/100 Mbps (1 Gbps symmetrical for community anchor institutions) to enable participation in modern social and economic life,
- investment in fiber-optic technology and last-mile infrastructure to promote resilient and reliable networks, and
- development of open access infrastructure to promote competition and affordable service plan options.
Funding Connecticut's Broadband Efforts
In support of these measures, the state set aside over $40 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Capital Projects Funds to invest in low-income/multi-family curb-to-home and business broadband infrastructure buildout and underserved area broadband infrastructure grants.
On August 30, 2022, Connecticut was approved to use $40.8 million in Capital Projects Funds support to connect 10,000 homes and businesses to affordable broadband through the Connecticut Broadband Infrastructure Program. The state is focusing on low-income and multi-family homes and businesses and areas lacking reliable high-speed internet connections. The Connecticut Broadband Infrastructure Program, a competitive grant program, will fund broadband infrastructure that delivers reliable internet service that meets or exceeds symmetrical download and upload speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps). For any networks built with Capital Projects Funds support, providers must participate in the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) new Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). The ACP helps ensure that households can afford the high-speed internet they need for work, school, healthcare, and more by providing a discount of up to $30 per month (or up to $75 per eligible household on Tribal lands). Treasury guidelines also require recipients to consider whether the federally-funded networks will be affordable to the target markets in their service area and encourage states to require that a federally-funded project offer at least one low-cost option at speeds that are sufficient for a household with multiple users.
The $40.8 million investment represents 29% of Connecticut's Capital Projects Funds allocation. Connecticut estimates it will help connect 10,000 unserved locations—about 6% of the total unserved locales in the state.
An additional $100 million will become available to each state through the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program which was created by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to fund broadband planning, deployment, mapping, equity, and adoption activities. BEAD funding is dependent on broadband maps expected from the FCC later this year—about the same time as Connecticut's own broadband map is completed. And Connecticut is working on a five-year plan to deploy broadband networks to all unserved locations as well as ensuring that everyone can get and stay connected. Those plans are expected in mid-2023.
- Somehow, I knew you would ask. A Freely Associated State (FAS) is an independent nation that has signed a comprehensive agreement with the United States called a Compact of Free Association (COFA) that governs diplomatic, economic, and military relations with the United States. Think: Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau.
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.
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