How Connecticut set itself up to be the first gigabit state

Connecticut is moving ahead with a statewide gigabit broadband initiative after resolving a surprisingly simple, but common, issue standing in the way of fiber deployment.

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Connecticut needed this. Lately, the only noteworthy contribution my home state has made to the national news is Aaron Hernandez, an apparent psychopath who earned millions of dollars playing football while (allegedly) murdering anyone who looked at him the wrong way.

But it looks like the third smallest state in the country is on its way to becoming the first to offer ubiquitous 1-Gigabit internet to its residents. The website has a pretty comprehensive breakdown on the project: 46 municipalities that make up about half of the state's population have agreed to endorse a plan for public/private partnerships to expand 1-Gig broadband internet access.

The "pubic/private partnerships" part of the plan likely makes it more achievable. In other areas, attempts at municipal-run broadband projects have created mountains of debt in their worst cases and have led to heated legislative battles in their best.

Chattanooga, Tennessee, is a good example of how difficult municipal broadband can be. The city's broadband is among the fastest in the country, and its network was built and operated by the city after it had difficulty attracting investment from private ISPs. When the city looked to expand its 1-Gig service to other regions, state lawmakers imposed strict regulations, ultimately culminating in the state of Tennessee filing a lawsuit against the FCC late last month.

The Connecticut State Broadband Initiative attempts to side step the messy political issues by paving the way for private companies to lay the fiber throughout the state and allowing ISPs to use it to provide services.

"It's like building the road — and anyone can drive their cars on it," Connecticut's consumer counsel Elin Katz recently told Backchannel.

It's not always that simple, though. What's different about the Connecticut plan is how it handled what Backchannel contributor Susan Crawford called "the unbelievably difficult issue of attaching wires to poles." She briefly explained how Connecticut addressed this issue:

"Rather than letting pole owners hold up every requestor by creating delays and making demands for special payments (seriously: pole-attachment scuffles are the long-running soap operas of telecom), Connecticut requires pole owners to obey a Single Pole Administrator, adhere to uniform pricing agreements, and act to make way for new wires in a set time. Dramatic stuff. And Connecticut already had passed a statute giving municipalities the right to use a part of a pole, or 'gain,' for any purpose. These two elements made Connecticut an extremely attractive place to string a network."

In fact, the obstacles that pole owners can create for projects like fiber deployment have been well-documented. An article published last May at provides detailed instructions on how to deal with pole owners who maybe imposing "fees and charges that are not permitted or exceed permitted regulated levels."

The FCC's National Broadband Plan includes a section that warns that "delays can also result from existing attachers' action (or inaction) to move equipment to accommodate a new attacher, potentially a competitor." Basically, those who own the utility poles can levy fees on any company or organization that tries to work on them, or they can just flat out deny access. The FCC acknowledged that reform is needed in how access to poles is handled.

Connecticut may be an example of how to implement this reform. A Request for Qualifications issued in September explained how the state accomplished this:

"All the utility poles across the state are subject to the central statutory jurisdiction of the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority," the RFQ read, according to "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."

Of course, Connecticut faces the same kinds of pushback seen in the states that are embroiled in legal battles over municipal broadband, i.e. lobbyist groups highlighting the risks and occasionally stepping into propaganda territory to sway public opinion. But, as Backchannel's Crawford pointed out, the initiative has already garnered majority support in the state, and it is designed to facilitate competition between private companies, rather than to threaten competition from the state. When pro-business lobbyists argue against a pro-business plan, few people are going to bother listening.

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