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February 5, 2018 OTHER VOICES

Towns need broader access to affordable, high-speed internet

Josh Elliott

For any Connecticut town to thrive in the 21st century, we need a high-speed, low-cost internet infrastructure that promotes economic development and other benefits.

As Hamden's 88th District House Representative, I know that our town's local officials and community leaders are fully aware that the speed and expense of the broadband access provided by incumbent service providers in Connecticut are inadequate to propel our state's long-term vision.

The work has begun elsewhere. Pockets of our state have started to invest in blazing-fast internet speed. Towns such as East Hartford, Branford and Manchester are leading the charge by working with private companies to develop better access to information.

In 2017, East Hartford entered into a broadband development agreement with SiFi Networks to install a high-speed fiber-optic network to all corners of the town. This public-private partnership equitably allocates the risks inherent in fiber network construction and management in a manner that significantly favors the town.

A recent op-ed in HBJ (“Municipal broadband effort too risky for ratepayers”) written by a New Hampshire lobbyist, however, called this partnership “too risky for ratepayers.”

But I believe the greater risk to East Hartford's residents, businesses, and all of its community anchor institutions, would be a failure to pursue a project that will yield affordable broadband internet access for all.

The author mistakenly asserts that the current market players are offering services at the cutting edge of technology. There is a duopoly present in East Hartford: Comcast and Frontier. Neither of those providers offer affordable, high-speed internet access service, nor do they offer fiber in town.

East Hartford is achieving its goal to lead the state into next-generation networks by attracting private capital investments of this scale at no cost to itself. The town has fashioned a deal that greatly improves the economics for the network builder. This has incentivized SiFi to make an investment of its own funds to complete and operate the project.

The author cynically asks if this deal is so good, why hasn't it been done elsewhere? The answer is that it has. Hundreds of towns across the U.S. have found different paths to provide their citizens with broadband that the market cannot deliver.

In this case, East Hartford is a municipal partner with local champions who recognize the demand for affordable internet access across the town and the lack of supply from the incumbents. The town has successfully shifted the costs of deployment and management to a private investor. These actions taken today will create faster, cheaper and better broadband access across East Hartford for generations to come.

The express agreement between SiFi and East Hartford was unanimously approved by the town council and memorialized in a set of legal documents prepared by a very experienced partner from a major Connecticut law firm. It is a private equity deal with no financial obligations on the town for construction or management of a fiber network. Access will be available to all addresses at affordable prices.

The author of the December article has also missed the fact that the financial responsibilities of the town in this deal are modeled after the telecommunications costs incurred by East Hartford already, across all departments.

Through this partnership, East Hartford will continue to pay the same amount it currently pays for telecommunications. Except now it will benefit from the reliability and high speeds of fiber.

If successful, this project stands to become a statewide model for advancing our internet infrastructure.

Josh Elliott is a state representative from Hamden.

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