With pockets of Connecticut relying on dial-up Internet or no Internet at all, state officials plan to invest in a new infrastructure that promises faster, more affordable connectivity.
The new technology, referred to as fiber optics, offers one gigabyte per second speeds—roughly 100 times faster than average. The state aims to increase competition in a marketplace that today gives consumers very few choices in Internet providers.
“When you are in that monopolistic or duopolistic situation, the only way to bring down prices is through regulation, which no one is trying to do,” said Consumer Counsel Elin Katz, a key proponent for the CT Gig Project. “Or, [you can] increase competition, which is what we’re trying to do.”
Katz points to other cities like Chattanooga or Kansas City, both of which saw significant economic growth and a drop in Internet prices shortly after opening new fiber lines. Residents in those cities pay $20-$70 a month for the new service.
But first, the state has to build the infrastructure. Cities like Chattanooga spent hundreds of millions of dollars to do that, which concerns critics like Bill Henderson, who represents Connecticut Frontier workers.
“I think we have to be careful how we approach the situation and how we get a reasonable solution,” said Henderson.
Henderson believes Internet should stay in the private sector.
“With the budget being as tight as it is in Connecticut, where we’re looking for every dime to balance the budget, it didn’t seem like a very prudent time to propose this into our budget,” he said.
However, Connecticut Comptroller Kevin Lembo says it’s too early to jump to that conclusion.
“The financing models are all over the board at this point,” said Lembo. “I don’t think it’s accurate to just assume it would be a public infrastructure project.”
Regardless, Lembo knows taxpayer money is a valid concern. More than a decade ago, a group of towns in Utah spent half a billion dollars trying to connect to fiber. Today, only 60 percent of people in those towns have access to the new Internet, yet everyone is paying for it via a $20 per month tax hike set to last the next 25 years.
Both Katz and Lembo say they are paying attention to Utah’s mistakes to make sure Connecticut doesn’t fall down the same path.
New Haven will likely be the first town to decide if it will go through with fiber. Mayor Tony Harp has two proposals on her desk—one from Frontier and another from Macquarie Capital, an Australian-based investment group.
NBC Connecticut is owned by Comcast. Comcast owns closed fiber lines in Connecticut, and has not yet proposed to expand its service.