Connecticut Gigabit Venture Seeks to Build Open Access Broadband Network With Municipal Tools

Broadband's Impact, Fiber, Gigabit Networks September 23rd, 2014

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SPRINGFIELD, Mass., September 23, 2014 – Connecticut officials planning a Gigabit Network in their state aim to take advantage of three core state broadband assets: An extensive state fiber network, streamlined processes governing rights-of-way, and a single administrative point of contact for infrastructure builds.

The mayors and state officials involved in issuing Connecticut’s Request for Qualifications document on September 15 said that that each of these three assets will enable the state to succeed in building an open access network – even when others have failed at the open access model.

An open network would enable multiple competitors, and not just a single monopoly entrant, to offer Gigabit Services. So said several state officials on Thursday, speaking at panel discussion at the Broadband Communities economic development conference here.

Only three days after the mayors issued their RFQ, West Hartford Deputy Mayor Shari Cantor recapped the reasons for Connecticut’s approach favoring open access. The cities don’t want to replace one monopoly — existing telephone and cable companies — with another monopoly like Google Fiber, she said.

The process that led New Haven, Stamford and West Hartford to issue their request for an open Gigabit Network began when West Hartford state Sen. Beth Bye investigated legislation that might help facilitate Gigabit Network coming to Connecticut, Bye said on Thursday.

She introduced legislation in last year’s budget budget making it easier for municipal and state networks to access public utility poles and ducts.

Additionally, Bye said, individuals seeking to build a Gigabit Network decided to use the state’s Nutmeg Network as a key building block. The Nutmeg Network is an open access educational network that provides 10 Gigabit connections to all 169 municipalities in the state. All towns are connected, and many are connected at multiple points.

The momentum behind the network was spurred on as officials began to discuss the prospect with state business leaders. Catherine Smith, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, said Thursday that “these kinds of businesses [technology-focused companies] are totally the ones we are targeting” for economic development.

In addition to the legislative change, the officials worked with the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to create a system for a “single point of contact” administrator enabling easier access to poles and ducts. Broadband experts call such an administrator an invaluable aid in developing fiber-to-the-home projects.

“All the utility poles across the state are subject to the central statutory jurisdiction of the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority,” read last week’s Request for Qualifications. “The established and firm timelines for the entire pole attachment process that the Connecticut regulator has ordered and manages … thus facilitat[es] the deployment of broadband.”

The Nutmeg Network, the state and municipal access to poles, and the single point of contact thus become key tools for the state in accomplishing its end-goal: an open access Gigabit Network.

Asked about the state and cities’ commitment to the open access model, panelists reiterated their desire to build such a network, but also stated that they are eager to see the responses that come from the RFQ.

Fundamentally, the officials believe that ultra-fast networks are vital to the economic health of the region.

“The transfer of data is the currency of the future,” said New Haven Mayor Toni Harp. “Are we ready to build for the economy of tomorrow?”

The deadline for questions from potential respondents is October 15, and the deadline for responses in November 18.

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