Governor Lamont Announces Legislative Proposal To Make Broadband Internet More Accessible To Connecticut Residents
HARTFORD, CT (STL.News) Governor Ned Lamont announced that he plans to introduce legislation during the 2021 regular session of the Connecticut General Assembly with the goal of making broadband internet more accessible to Connecticut residents, particularly those in underserved households.
The governor said that while broadband internet access has become more important in recent years than ever before, the COVID-19 pandemic has deepened the digital divide even further, preventing some residents from accessing critical resources. A survey conducted in 2018 found that 23 percent of Connecticut residents did not have internet access, including 21 percent of white households, 35 percent of Hispanic households, and 34 percent of African-American households.
“These days, access to the internet means access to healthcare services, educational opportunities, and jobs,” Governor Lamont said. “Thousands of people in our state to do not have access to what has now become an essential utility. We must treat access to the internet similar to the way we treat access to all of our utilities because in the modern world lack of internet access means people are held back from advancing economically, and it can even put their own health at risk. Unless we address our unserved broadband challenges in our urban, suburban, and rural areas, we will not have equitable access for all and achieve the economic recovery that we need.”
Governor Lamont’s proposal, which will be included as part of the governor’s 2021 package of legislation that will be submitted to the General Assembly in February, will include the following key initiatives:
Increase access to high-speed broadband internet through building out all unserved areas
- Set universal broadband access goals for the state by September 2022;
- Repeal the prohibition on the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) from requiring internet service providers to provide access to all residents where they have video licenses; and
- Require internet service providers to report annual metrics such as availability, download and upload speeds, and outage information.
Reduce exorbitant costs of building broadband internet access in Connecticut
- Adjust the permitting process to reduce time and costs to install broadband internet access in utility poles, and hold pole owners accountable to issue permits in a timely manner;
- Require PURA to develop a one-touch make ready process to be implemented by utility pole owners; and
- Implement dig-once policies to provide ready-made buried conduits.
Streamline agency efforts to ensure effective creation and coordination of goals and standards
- The Connecticut Office of State Broadband, in consultation with the Department of Economic and Community Development and the Department of Administrative Services, will establish broadband goals and standards;
- The Office of State Broadband and the Office of Policy and Management will develop a robust, fiber-mapping program to understand gaps and accessibility; and
- The Office of Broadband access, in consultation with the Department of Economic and Community Development, the Department of Administrative Services, and the Department of Transportation, will coordinate and support businesses with their broadband needs.
Establish better consumer protections for consumers across the state by giving oversight of complaints to PURA
- Provide PURA with the ability to oversee business and consumer complaints regarding broadband internet to more effectively manage penalties for non-compliance;
- Prevent providers from refusing service to customers due to race, religion, sexual orientation, or financial standing (i.e. credit score); and
- Ensure no interference with consumer use of internet for all legal purposes.
As a result of Governor Lamont’s Everybody Learns Initiative, which has the goal of closing the digital divide among students, Connecticut achieved a major milestone in December and became the first state in the nation to provide a learning device to every PK-12 student who identified themselves as lacking a computer at home. This included the purchase by the state of 82,000 laptops and 44,000 at-home internet connections for students at a cost of $43.5 million, which came from the state’s portion of the federal CARES Act funding. In addition, the nonprofit organization Partnership for Connecticut spent $24 million to provide 60,000 laptops to high school students.