Connecticut has the potential to become a national leader in offering the ultra-high speed Internet that many companies are looking for in an increasingly digitalized business world, according to a new state study.
The new study for the Office of Consumer Counsel, which recommends a number of possible initiatives, may help bolster a legislative proposal under consideration to create a Bioscience and Health Data Network Collaborative Task Force that would work out plans for a gigabit-speed broadband network.
State Comptroller Kevin Lembo told the Commerce Committee that “it is in our collective best interest to explore new ways to grow Connecticut’s economy.”
“The proposed Health Innovation Corridor will encourage entrepreneurship, private investment in our state and the retention of our brightest young minds,” Lembo said. “Throughout the country we have seen how the advancement and expansion of broadband technology access increases economic development.”
One possible avenue, suggested by the Connecticut Technology Council, would be the creation of a pilot project to test whether affordable, high-speed broadband would serve as the economic catalyst many anticipate.
Bruce Carlson, president of the council, recently told lawmakers it would like to run a pilot Innovation Corridor project in New Britain, Newington, Farmington, West Hartford, and Hartford. It would tap into an existing 100-gigabit fiber optic line alongside the railroad line to create a new loop that would reach out to Jackson Labs, Central Connecticut State University, and other users.
The Connecticut State Broadband Office is working with a host of companies, communities, and others to figure out how best to pursue its goal of developing “more robust broadband connections around the state through the CT Gig project,” which wants to see web speeds far faster than most cable connections offer today.
The new study, according to its executive summary, “recommends levers for enabling and incenting investment, including low- and modest-cost strategies that are focused on creating an environment in which private capital is attracted to broadband deployment opportunities in the state.”
There is considerable opposition to greater government involvement in the effort. Among the critics are the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, the MetroHartford Alliance, and the New England Cable & Telecommunications Association.
The New England group, based in Massachusetts, said in its testimony to the Commerce Committee recently that Connecticut’s commercial broadband market “is robust and very competitive” already, with a number of providers offering multi-gigabit service.
Paul Cianelli, president of the trade group, said the proposed network legislators are weighing would promote “government ownership and management of broadband networks under the code phrase of ‘public-private partnerships’,” which he said could pose a risk to taxpayers.
But Mike Hyde, a vice president for Jackson Lab, said in an email that his firm is “very interested in securing ultra-high-capacity” fiber optics for its new facility beside the UConn Health center in Farmington.
“This kind of connectivity is crucial to moving and manipulating the very large volumes of data that are generated in our genomic research projects,” Hyde said.
The new state report — “Opportunities for the State and Localities to Enable World-Class Broadband” — was done by a consultant, CTC Technology & Energy, and offers a variety of possible avenues to pursue if it wants to become a national leader.
It says Connecticut and its towns and cities should try to create an environment that will attract private investment for greater broadband development.
Among the proposals the study touts are the creation of grant funding programs where awards are issued in a competitive process, the establishing “dig once” policies where fiber, and conduit that can house fiber, is deployed during road construction and creating a broadband infrastructure bank similar to the Connecticut Green Bank.
It also urges the state to maximize its use of the federal E-rate subsidy program by schools and libraries, facilitate the placement of fiber on utility poles, and establish a certification program for Connecticut buildings that have high-speed Internet services so they could be identified and publicized.
Consumer Counsel Elin Swanson Katz said demand for affordable high bandwidth “continues to grow exponentially in many business sectors, not the least of which are the bioscience, health care, and insurance industries” that a Senate Bill 445 targets.
Katz said that firms can’t afford the high prices for the bandwidth they need and the result is that it has become “a factor in very large firms relocating” elsewhere to get reasonable prices for the Internet speeds they seek.
Katz said the task force the proposed bill would create could serve as “the opening bell” in the state’s bid “to position itself as a heavyweight” in the ever-growing digital economy, especially in New England.
Fred Carstensen, the director of the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis at the University of Connecticut, said “the sad reality” is that the state “has been peculiarly inattentive to the rapidly changing competitive environment in the Age of Big Data and the crucial infrastructure” that frames its competitive strength.
He said the failure to attend to information technology is a major reason for the state’s inability to create jobs during the past quarter century.
“While Connecticut has now woken up to the heavy toll the poor condition of its physical transportation infrastructure imposes, it remains oddly silent about communication infrastructure,” Carstensen said.
Katz told lawmakers that faster, cheaper Internet would help attract and retain young professionals who demand it “in every aspect of their private lives” as well as at work. “If Connecticut doesn’t provide it, our research demonstrates that these prize employees and citizens will pick up their multiple Internet access devices and move on.”