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Video Available: Connecticut Gigabit State Event

On May 5th, Christopher participated in a panel conversation presented by the City of New Haven and the Connecticut Office of Consumer Counsel. Video of the event, Moving Towards A Gigabit State: Planning & Financing Municipal Ultra-High-Speed Internet Fiber Networks Through Public-Private Partnerships, is now available.

You can watch it from the Connecticut Network website. The final panel has, in order of appearance, Bill Vallee, Joanne Hovis, Christopher, Monica Webb, and Jim Baller. It begins around 3:18 and Christopher begins his presentation at 3:36. The entire video is approximately 4 hours, 30 minutes.

The event included a number of experts from the industry. From the event announcement:

A conversation on the “Nuts and Bolts” of Internet Fiber Networks targeting municipal officials and other public officials to provide information for municipalities interested in creating ultra-high-speed networks. The networks would be created via public-private partnerships through Connecticut to enable innovations in areas such as health care, education, business development and jobs creation, and public safety.

Local Voices Show Support for Local Connectivity Options

Our readers have heard the media murmur around municipal networks steadily grow to a loud hum during the past year. An increasing number of local press outlets have taken the opportunity to express their support for municipal networks in recent months.

In communities across the U.S. letters to the editor or editorial board opinions reflected the hightened awareness that local decisionmaking is the best answer. Support is not defined by political inclination, geography, or urbanization.

Last fall, several Colorado communities asked voters to decide whether or not to reclaim local telecommunications authority hijacked by the state legislature and Qwest (now CenturyLink) lobbyists in 2005. Opinion pieces from local political and business leaders in the Denver Post and the Boulder Daily Camera encouraged voters to support the measures. Downtown Boulder Inc. and the Boulder Chamber wrote:

Clearly a transparent public process is appropriate for identifying the best path to higher-speed infrastructure. One thing is certain. Approving the exemption to State Law 152 is a step in the right direction.

Expensive service, poor quality connections, and limited access often inspire local voices to find their way to the news. Recently, City Council Member Michael Wojcik from Rochester, Minnesota, advocated for a municipal network for local businesses and residents. His letter appeared in the

If we want to control our broadband future, we need to join successful communities such as Chattanooga, Tenn., and Lafayette, La., and create a municipal fiber network. In many cities around the world, residents get 1 gigabyte, bidirectional Internet speeds for less than $40 per month. In Rochester, I get 1 percent of those speeds for $55 per month. I believe if Bucharest, Romania, can figure this out, Rochester can as well.

Last summer, Austin Daily Herald reporter Laura Helle wrote in support of the Minnesota community's proposed Gig Austin project. She acknowledged that there were those in the community who considered their Internet access "fine" but "fine" would not sufficiently encourage growth and economic development.

In May, the Olympian Editorial Board suggested several communities in Washington open up municipal fiber networks for consumer use.

Some editorials or letters we see support specific projects. Connecticut community media outlets are also voicing support for a statewide initiative commenced last fall. Hartford Business published an opinion piece from State Senator Beth Bye and Consumer Counsel Ellin Katz on the need for better connectivity in the state. They then followed up with an editorial supporting the plan:

To be frank, investing in high-speed Internet infrastructure hasn't been an issue high on our priority list, but when you look at the statistics and the economic implications, it is something state policymakers and the business community should look at seriously.

A number of communities have expressed interest in joining the Connecticut effort and journalists and editors in communities like Wallingford have published pieces encouraging their local leaders to participate.

Bill Nemitz, writing for the Portland Press Herald, and Stephen Betts at the Bangor Daily News highlighted the promise of municipal networks in Maine. Nemitz believes Maine should consider a network similar to Massachusetts' WiredWest or take a closer look at Leverett. The Daily News touted Rockport's investment as a locally driven initiative:

As Rockport lights its fiber, many other towns across Maine contemplate the economic and quality of life benefits fiber promises. The network wouldn’t have moved forward without the support of businesses and institutions, as well as local taxpayers, who believed in the value of fiber. Private investment and revenue from the town’s Tax Increment Financing account funded the project.

Reading Newspaper NYC

The Daily News writes fondly of Rockport's local self-reliant approach: "...towns across the state would do well to take notice of Rockport's example."

In communities where projects have been considered, local media has felt compelled to express to their support. In Roanoke County, Virginia, a project has been debated for over a year. In July the Roanoke Times Editorial Board published "Our view: Strike up the broadband" in support of the project.

Recently, we reported on a collaborative project in McHenry County, Illinois involving the county, a nearby community college, a school district, and the city. In December, the Northwest Herald supported the project with an editorial, citing taxpayer savings and potential economic development.

Economic development is often cited as one of the most important reasons local citizens, leaders, and editorial boards support local initiatives. The Editorial Board of ended 2014 with strong support of a proposed plan to develop a fiber optic network to attract business:

We urge city leaders move ahead with all deliberate speed on our own "Gig City" project, and all the local governments and business support organizations in our region to work in partnership to create a new atmosphere of excitement for entrepreneurism.

Such jobs, created handful by handful in small companies with large potential, will boost our Rocket City to new levels of success.

We also came across an editorial encapsulating the process and the success of local connectivity in The Dalles, Oregon. The network paid off its debt ahead of schedule. The Dalles Chronicle covered the story, highlighting the benefits of the network but also providing a brief history of the tumultuous history behind the decision to invest in a network. Ultimately, the community's success was the realization of their vision which is now their fiber optic network asset, QLife. From the editorial:

Their vision has been validated over and over in the subsequent years.

QLife isn’t the only benefit that has come from a community-wide vision.

Every community needs visionaries to help shape its future and The Dalles one has reaped benefits from visionaries as it has materially transformed itself over the decades.

But every community also needs hard-headed pragmatists to question the need, analyze the plan and help make sure any vision stands up under public scrutiny.

Only through this crucible of diverging perspectives does truly sound public policy emerge.

QLife is a testiment to effectiveness of that crucible.

Beleve it or not, these are only a few of the letters to the editor and editorials we see on a regular basis in support of local telecommunications authority, specific municipal projects under consideration, or from a public that knows local connectivity needs a boost from the community.

If your community suffers from poor connecivity for residents, business, or public institutions, you should consider the possibilty of a community network initiative. Writing editorials and letters to the editor in local media is a good way to find like minded citizens and bring attention to the issue.

For more on starting a community network initiative in your community, check out our Community Network Toolkit or many of our other resources.

Photo of the newspaper stack courtesy of Globalimmigrantnews through Wikimedia Commons. Photo of the newspaper reader courtesy of c_pichler through Wikimedia Commons

CTgig Effort in Connecticut Now Backed By 46 Communities

Last fall, three Connecticut communities banded together to form what has now become a statewide effort to improve connectivity across the state. The CTgig Project has since blossomed to include 46 municipalities, or 50% of the state's population according to a recent press release.

The initiative began when Stamford, New Haven, and West Hartford issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) [PDF] to open up dialogue with potential private sector partners. The goal was described as an open access gigabit fiber network for residents, businesses, and community anchor institutions.

State officials traveled to various communities to share information on the project in a series of community meetings. We interviewed Connecticut Consumer Counsel Elin Katz and Broadband Policy Coordinator Bill Vallee about the project in Episode 118 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

As an increasing number of Connecticut communities joined the initiative, others followed suit. In part because they recognized the need for better connectivity to improve the quality of life, but also because they recognized their perilous economic position if they chose to remain behind.

Southington's Town Council, debated whether or not to join the collaboration in early December. From a recent article:

“The way industry and business is moving these days, they all require a high level of Internet speed and access," [Rod] Philips [Southington’s director of planning and community development] said. “If we don’t do something, we’re going to be at a disadvantage.”

Southington voted to participate in the RFQ.

In the press release, Bill Vallee provided more details about what state leaders hoped to see from RFQ responses:

"The RFQ expressly seeks financing to be invested by the potential fiber network builders and Internet service providers expected to respond to the RFQ on January 13, 2015.  Neither the state nor the municipalities will be investing funds in the networks or Internet service provisioning, but the municipalities will contribute in-kind assets and support.”   Vallee stated that “the RFQ seeks to increase competition in the Internet access market to boost the currently low levels of access speeds available in Connecticut and reduce the exceedingly high rates compared to peer states and other nations charged by the incumbents.  That said, incumbent telephone and cable operators are logical respondents since they are already providing Internet service across the state, and they are, of course, encouraged to respond to the RFP.” 


Connecticut Communities Want Better Internet Access - Community Broadband Bits Episode 118

While in Springfield, Massachusetts for the Broadband Communities Municipal Broadband and Economic Development event, I met several of the people that have been working on an initiative that aims to bring better Internet access to many in Connecticut. Two of them, Connecticut Consumer Counsel Elin Katz and Broadband Policy Coordinator Bill Vallee join me this week for episode 118 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Three cities have already issued an RFQ to begin the process of evaluating what options are available to them in improving Internet access for their residents and businesses. New Haven, Stamford, and West Hartford kicked the initiative off but others may soon join.

We also discuss how Connecticut has greatly simplified the process of pole attachments to encourage investment from any interested provider.

Read the transcript of this show here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 22 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to Jessie Evans for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Is it Fire?"

AT&T and ALEC Take Aim at Connecticut for Third Year in a Row

StopTheCap! reports there are three bills in the Connecticut General Assembly that, if passed, will leave little or no protections for customers of plain old telephone service who encounter difficulties with service. AT&T and ALEC back these bills for the third year in a row.

Such bills are not new to our readers who often see our reports on large corporate providers that use state legislators as vehicles to shed regulations. Phil Dampier from StopThe Cap! summarizes all three bills:

HB 6401: House Bill 6401 strips the Public Utilities Review Authority (PURA) of their ability to regulate Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone services. An emerging market, this bill creates deregulation for the sake of deregulation.

HB 6402: House Bill 6402 eliminates the right of regulators to oversee AT&T to make sure it has some form of accountability to the public. The section on annual audits has been gutted, making it impossible to protect the public from rate-fixing. More importantly, it includes a provision to allow AT&T to end service to any customer it wants upon 30 days’ written notice. [PDF of the Nonpartisan Bill Summary available from the Connecticut General Assembly]

SB 888: Senate Bill 888 has an ALEC-drafted provision that allows cell phone towers to be built on public lands on a presumption that the will of telecommunications companies is in the interest of the public good.

As we saw in Kentucky, concerned citizen groups will not take the change lying down, joining forces to form the Don't Hang Up on Connecticut coalition. AARP Connecticut leads the charge to motivate seniors and their families, a group traditionally dependent on landlines. George Gombossy, from the New Britain Herald, spoke with John Erlingheauser, AARP's advocacy director:

Erlingheuser said his organization is particularly concerned with three elements of the proposal: Allowing AT&T to stop providing any of its services with a 60-day notice to the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority.

Limiting the state’s quality of services standards “which cover such things as responding to trouble reports and service outages.” And a halt to annual audit of AT&T’s business in Connecticut in which the company reports on its investments in infrastructure and modernization.

The three, he said, will result in AT&T spending less on traditional phone system and more on its cellular and Internet-based systems.

Connecticut Seal

The list of supporting legislators and AT&T lobbyists includes ALEC chairs on both the federal and state level.

The New Haven Register also reported on the measure:

“If AT&T is allowed to drop service in unprofitable areas at their sole discretion, if they’re allowed to let service outages drag on for weeks with no consequences, if they’re allowed to jack up rates — of course they will,” Daniel Ravizza of Connecticut Citizen Action Group said in a statement. “‘Trust me’ is not a good enough guarantee for Connecticut consumers.

We interviewed Harold Feld twice for the Broadband Bits podcast and he talked about the transition to new voice technology and his expectations from AT&T. Feld described AT&T's business practices and history of investment, or lack thereof - that history that supports Ravizza's concern.

We will be following this story and hope to soon report on the coalition's success. For more on how Kentucky citizens stopped similar legislation, you can listen to Christopher interview Mimi Pickering and Tom FitzGerald in episode #44 of the Broadband Bits Podcast.  

Connecticut Power Outage Shows Superiority of Community Ownership

Rob Cox, a writer for Reuters, has delved into the disappointing response of some investor-owned utilities in Connecticut following the recent blizzard, noting the better performance of muni power companies. Hurricane Irene recently revealed the similar superiority of muni electrics compared to the investor-owned in Massachusetts, prompting us to note the parallels with Wired West's initiative in Western Massachusetts. They have created an electric light coop to build a next-generation fiber-optic network out to everyone in the area.

And on the same day that Longmont embraced locally owned broadband in Colorado, nearby Boulder started the process of kicking Xcel out in favor of an electric grid that is accountable to the public.

So let's see what the New York Times has to say about municipal ownership of infrastructure. They begin by noting the many ways Connecticut Light and Power (the subsidiary of Northeast, an investor owned utility presently consolidating with another large IOU) has cut its maintenance spending over the last few years -- leaving many more power lines vulnerable to the tree-bending blizzard.

There’s even a near-perfect model of how Connecticut Light and Power could have done the job better. Norwich, Conn., a city of 40,000, has owned its own electric utility, as well as those for sewage, gas and water, for 107 years. Norwich Public Utilities’ customers pay, on average, a bit less than Connecticut Light and Power’s. Yet after this past weekend’s snow dump, power was out for only about 450 of its 22,000 customers — and for no more than an hour. As of Thursday morning, nearly half a million Connecticut Light and Power customers were still waiting for the lights to go on.

That’s not luck, either. After Irene hit, just 13 percent of the city’s customers lost their power for more than a day. Within three days, the whole of Norwich had been restored. It took more than a week for Connecticut Light and Power to fully restore power.

To reiterate, the publicly owned system is cheaper, more reliable, and responds more quickly in emergencies. Sounds like efficiency.

That makes it seem odd that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has tended to appear alongside Connecticut Light and Power’s Mr. Butler and to support the utility, even though far more customers lost power than should have and restoration proceeded too slowly. There’s solid numerical evidence to justify Mr. Malloy’s berating Connecticut Light and Power and calling for Mr. Butler’s head on behalf of the citizens of his state.

And yet, we see the exact same response from elected officials in the face of a less efficient private sector -- they blindly embrace the private sector, pretending we have no other options.

Connecticut Light and Power Logo

In contrast to Connecticut Light and Power, Norwich’s electric unit last year increased operations and maintenance spending by 11 percent, to $2.9 million. Put another way, in 2010 Norwich allocated about $132 a customer to this line item in its accounts. Connecticut Light and Power reported maintenance, unadjusted for deferred expenses, of $96.5 million, or around $78 per client.

Well, that is curious. The publicly owned utility is able to charge less for power while spending more per ratepayer. And we know that more money from the local utility stays in the community whereas the absentee-owned companies result in fund flight.

It helps that the Norwich utilities are not slaves to the profit motive — though they hand 10 percent of gross revenue to the city.

Whoops! There goes the whole "they have an advantage because they don't pay taxes BS argument...

Last year, before paying this slice to the city, the electricity division made just a 3.6 percent operating profit margin on its $52.3 million of revenue. The Connecticut Light and Power division of Northeast, meanwhile, booked $3 billion of revenue last year and reported an operating margin nearly five times the size of Norwich’s. But it surely also helps that Norwich Public Utilities’ general manager, 12 linemen and five commissioners live in the community, drive the local roads, see the overhanging branches and bump into their customers at the Norwichtown Mall. That’s a rare kind of accountability.

It shouldn't be a "rare" kind of accountability if we recognized the limits of where the private sector excels and encouraged it to "tend to its knitting" as my grandma says.

Photo, courtesy of autowitch on flickr.