November 10, 2021 – Across New England, locally controlled and state-owned internet infrastructure is on the rise, from Bar Harbor, Maine, to the Berkshires of Massachusetts. In Connecticut, however, that’s a different story. The State of Constitution is a municipal broadband desert.
That could change, however, as Bristol (population 60,000) moves closer to becoming the first city in Connecticut to transform into a community-owned connectivity fountain as city officials consider using its US federal law on rescue plan (ARPA). funds to build an open access fiber optic network across the city. With $ 28 million in ARPA funds at its disposal, city officials have embarked on a months-long process of deciding how much, if any, of that money should be spent on building fiber-optic infrastructure.
The city’s chief technology staff worked with a consultant to draft design recommendations for the network, which were to be presented to both city council and financial council in August or September.
“This plan has been completed but has not yet been presented to city officials,” said the city’s chief information officer. Scott smith told ILSR in an email. âThe consultants would like to present their plan in person to City officials so we thought it might be safer to ask them to present it at an upcoming Mayor’s ARPA Working Group meeting. We hope to be able to use some of the ARPA funds to finance some of this broadband construction, especially in areas of the city where we have a significant digital divide. “
Building this infrastructure would increase competition and address local concerns about the lack of reliable, affordable high-speed Internet access.
“With the covid pandemic, that catapulted him to the top (of concerns),” Smith told the Bristol Press. âWe have a digital divide problem in Bristol which is quite significant. “
Currently no fiber options are available at Bristol, Comcast, Frontier, Viasat and HughesNet offering only cable, DSL and satellite. And while BroadbandNow reports that Comcast’s highest level of service provides high-speed connectivity in the region, we know that private infrastructure doesn’t mean universal access. It’s not accessible if you can’t afford it.
The city asked residents about their interest in the city facilitating more internet access options, with more than 500 respondents in August.
In the summary of Bristol’s 2022 capital budget it says:
“The city continues to study the feasibility of a potential city-wide network and has allocated $ 250,000 in ARPA funds to evaluate an open access fiber broadband network for Internet service providers to use.” to provide services to Bristol businesses and households. The $ 100,000 credit in 2021 is used to provide a comprehensive plan and a feasibility study to see if this network is sustainable and if the community wants it. “
âThe city has built its own fiber network to connect all of its buildings and schools,â said the city’s chief information officer. Scott smith said to Bristol Press. âWe already have one connected to the poles. We are looking to try to use this as much as possible and to spread this fiber in neighborhoods around schools and around city buildings with the ultimate goal of reaching the whole city.
While the timeline is unclear, there is no denying that the city is seriously considering how to create a more competitive broadband market.
âWe are not going to become an ISP. We are asking Internet service providers to compete for infrastructure. Competition would lower prices, âsaid the then mayor. Ellen Zoppo-Sassu said to Hartford Current earlier this year. (Zoppo-Sassu lost his mayoral bid this month to the Republican challenger Jeff Caggiano, which opened on November 8, 2021.)
Municipal broadband networks are virtually non-existent in Connecticut, although Plainville began construction of an institutional network (I-Net) this summer. If Bristol continues to build an open access fiber network and is successful, it would set a powerful example for other communities in the state and could inspire local governments in other parts of the state to follow suit.
Editor’s Note: This article was written by Maren Machles, reporter for the Community Broadband Network Initiative at the Institute for Local Self Reliance. Originally appearing on MuniNetworks.org on October 29, 2021, the article is republished with permission.