The City of Hartford has announced that it plans to build a system that gives every resident access to free, high-speed internet within the next year.
Mayor Luke Bronin said the city will be installing nearly 1,000 wireless access points that will provide very fast internet service to a significant amount of residents and businesses. At minimum, he said there will be LTE speed service everywhere across the city.
Bronin said it will be a phased roll out starting in neighborhoods with the greatest need, which include the Northeast Neighborhood and Frog Hollow. He said he expects the internet access to be in those two neighborhoods by the end of this calendar year. In the following six months, Bronin said he expects the internet service to be available city wide.
The project is being funded by a partnership with the city, Dalio Education and the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, Bronin said.
Bronin estimates the project has a capital cost of $3.8 million and said it will be fully covered through donations from the partners and funding through the city. The city is expected to pick up the ongoing cost, which he said is estimated to be $100,000 a year,.
A news release from the mayor's office said the Dalio Foundation and the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving are committing $1.5 million each.
According to Bronin, the internet service will help bridge the digital divide that has been going on for years.
Bronin said the digital divide has made it hard for some store owners in the city to use credit card machines, but has also impacted some students who have had to set up in a McDonald's to access internet to get homework done.
Bronin added that internet is a basic utility in 2020 and is a necessity.
"I think it’s a good plan because a lot of parents cannot afford even the cheapest $9.95 internet access," said Hartford resident Terra Jasper-Ricci, who lives in the area where phase 1 of the project will begin.
"A lot of kids in Hartford do not have internet access. A lot of kids come to the barbershop to use internet for their homework and stuff," Rick Golden, who owns a business in the city, explained.
Hartford Public Schools applauded the initiative in a statement Wednesday.
“I want to thank the City of Hartford and our partners at the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving and Dalio Education for bringing reliable and consistent internet access to Hartford Public School students," said Superintendent Torres-Rodriguez. “In the spring, we found that approximately 12% of Hartford Public School students did not have access to the internet at home. As we plan for a school year with unprecedented challenges, this partnership to offer free WiFi will ensure greater equity, access, and opportunity for our beautiful and capable students, and bring peace of mind to their hardworking families."
On Tuesday, Governor Ned Lamont announced that his administration is launching the Everybody Learns initiative.
It is a $43.5 million investment in remote learning solutions to close the digital divide in Connecticut and empower students across the state.
On July 14, city and state leaders and Hartford parents came together to talk about this make or break issue in education during the pandemic - student access to the internet.
Mayor Bronin agreed, noted the profound disparities in internet access for families in cities like Hartford during the round table with parents and state officials.