Reliable, high-speed broadband internet access must no longer be seen as a luxury for most, but instead a necessity for all. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated how critical that access is for Connecticut residents looking to participate in the 21st-century economy and access critical services such as remote learning and telehealth appointments. Governor Lamont proposes to promote broadband build-out in unserved and underserved areas through mapping and restoring statutory mandates, to streamline costly deployment processes, and to give the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority additional authority to protect consumers.
Too many Connecticut residents lack reliable, high-speed broadband internet that would help them reach the heights of their potential. Key challenges include affordability in our urban centers and access in the rural corners of the state.2018 data from the Census Bureau estimated that 20% of all Connecticut residents lack broadband internet in their homes.
That digital divide disproportionately impacts households of color: 20% of white households in Connecticut lacked wireline broadband internet at home, compared to 35% and 34% of Hispanic and African American households. If anything, that FCC data understates the severity of the problem as it uses a level of speed to define “high-speed broadband” that is no longer adequate to meet the data and streaming needs of today’s economy.
Unfortunately, the state is not set up to properly address its digital divide. Without adequate maps of fiber and telecommunications infrastructure, the state is unable to strategically invest in filling gaps and unable to support consumers and municipalities with their needs. Likewise, executive agencies have no personnel or offices officially responsible for coordinating broadband resources, developing policy, and supporting municipalities, households, businesses, and other organizations with their broadband needs.
Governor Lamont’s Solution
Governor Lamont proposes recognizing broadband as the essential, 21st century service and achieving four fundamental goals:
- Achieve universal access to broadband internet download speeds averaging one gigabit per second and upload speeds of 200 megabits per second by 2027
- Grow the state’s economy
- Reduce broadband costs
- Protect consumers
To achieve universal access to high-speed broadband, the Governor proposes restoring statutory build-out requirements for cable companies in the remaining unserved areas in the state and producing detailed broadband mapping and adequate statewide broadband standards. The state must also be equipped to better coordinate the resources at its disposal and partner with municipalities, businesses, and consumers to ensure gaps are closed across the state. Accordingly, the budget included resources for the Office of Policy and Management to direct a modern mapping process and for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to create an Office of Telecom and Broadband that will track broadband deployment policies and standards.
Governor Lamont proposes to help grow the economy by incorporating broadband commitments into economic development initiatives and the needs of our residents and business community into mapping and broadband standards. Additionally, new personnel and resources will be able to support businesses and municipalities with their broadband needs, a function the state currently does not serve.
The Governor proposes to lower broadband costs through streamlining broadband deployment processes that are inefficient and costly. Best practice approaches such as one-touch-make-ready, dig-once, and a meaningful pole-attachment permitting process will make it much easier and less expensive to deploy broadband in Connecticut.
Finally, the Governor proposes to expand consumer protections by granting reasonable oversight of broadband facilities to PURA, equipping the Office of Consumer Council to represent consumers before PURA, and establishing strong nondiscrimination principles for broadband service providers.