Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont said Wednesday he plans to introduce legislation to make broadband more accessible to residents, especially those in underserved households. Gov. Lamont noted the COVID-19 pandemic has “deepened the digital divide…preventing some residents from accessing critical resources.” According to a 2018 survey, 23 percent of the state’s residents lacked 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,” Gov. Lamont said. “Thousands of people in our state do not have access to what has now become an essential utility…[The] 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.”
In December, the governor’s Everybody Learns Initiative, aimed at students, achieved a milestone. Connecticut became the first state to provide a learning device to every PK-12 student lacking a home computer. The state purchased 82,000 laptops and 44,000 at-home internet connections for students at the cost of $43.5 million, covered by the federal CARES Act funding.
The governor will submit his 2021 legislation package on broadband to the General Assembly in February. Some key points within the package include:
- Increasing access to high-speed broadband internet through building out all unserved areas by setting a universal broadband access goal by September 2022, repealing the prohibition on the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA), and requiring all ISPs to report annual metrics including availability, speeds, and outages.
- Reducing exorbitant costs of building broadband internet access in Connecticut by adjusting the permitting process, requiring PURA to develop a one-touch make ready process, and implementing dig-once policies.
- Streamlining agency efforts to ensure effective creation and coordination of goals and standards, facilitated by various state departments, including a robust, fiber-mapping program to understand gaps and accessibility plus coordination with businesses to support their broadband needs.
- Establishing better protections for consumers across the state by giving oversight of complaints to PURA, including the ability to oversee business and consumer complaints to more effectively manage penalties for non-compliance and prevent providers from refusing service to customers based on discriminatory practices.