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July 16, 2018 Technology

Study: Faster internet not a boon to all of CT

Graphic | Telematics and Informatics 35 (2018) 1408–1420 A map of Connecticut cities and towns.
Sudip Bhattacharjee, Business Professor, UConn
Matt Pilon

Government officials in a number of Connecticut cities and towns have long wanted to broaden access to faster internet speeds to spur economic development and make their local communities more attractive places to live and work.

But exactly how much would it improve a town's economy to invest millions of dollars to build a municipal fiber network that allows for ultra-fast, gigabit-speed internet? For many local officials, the answer could amount to mere guesswork.

While prior research has found a link between access to broadband internet and employment growth, it has largely focused on national or statewide data, rather than an individual municipality's stats.

New academic research, however, may provide the best insights yet for curious Connecticut officials. Published in the March issue of the Telematics and Informatics journal, the report— penned by a team of UConn business school researchers — offers a statistical model the authors say confirms that faster internet improves economies, but interestingly, the benefits would not be evenly spread in Connecticut.

Municipalities projected to see the greatest gains would be those of medium size, close to big cities, with younger, better-educated populations and higher median incomes.

Certain communities with room for economic improvement would also see bigger gains, according to the research.

“Just having high-speed broadband internet is not enough,” said Sudip Bhattacharjee, a UConn business professor who co-authored the paper.

Bhattacharjee said he hopes local officials will use the model to assess the potential economic payback of broadband investments.

The fact that benefits can differ from town to town make it all the more important to make calculations before investing in greater bandwidth, the paper says.

Analyzing 62 Connecticut communities, the researchers' model projects that West Hartford would see the greatest economic gains from higher speeds, followed by East Hartford.

The team spent more than three years gathering and crunching 2008-2013 economic, demographic and internet data, which informed their projections of how higher speeds could benefit median income, annual housing permits, employment and tax revenue.

They scored the gains for each community using a comparable index. They also evaluated two different internet-speed tiers, which revealed that certain towns would see varying movement in their rankings, depending on the type of service offered.

The researchers opted to list only the top 10 Connecticut communities projected to see the greatest gains, but a map (see above) gives a sense of which parts of the state would fare better.

One surprising finding, Bhattacharjee said, was that some smaller towns would actually see a net economic loss from higher speeds, when ranked against other communities. Those towns generally have older residents and are more remote.

“This highlights that physical connectivity, resident age, and geography are integral parts of development to take advantage of increased broadband speeds,” the paper says.

Credited as co-authors on the study are Consumer Counsel Elin Katz and William Vallee, head of the Connecticut Broadband Office, two people who have been leading advocates for municipal fiber networks. Bhattacharjee said the study was funded solely by UConn, and he said the the research is objective.

Editor's note: This story has been modified to include additional information about funding for the study

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