Connecticut communities join together for gigabit broadband

Connecticut takes the first step toward launching a gigabit broadband network that officials hope will spur competition and lead to higher-speed service at lower prices.

Connecticut wants to be the first state to have a statewide gigabit fiber broadband network.

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A consortium of 46 municipalities, representing about 50 percent of the state's population, is looking to build an ultrahigh-speed broadband network capable of delivering gigabit upload and download speeds. The cities are working with private entities to form a public partnership that will build the network and ultimately offer service to residents and consumers throughout the region.

In September, leaders of the CTgig Project issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to gauge interest and to invite cities to participate. The initial deadline for proposals is January 13. Community leaders pushing the initiative say the response from communities wanting to participate has been very positive.

"We're thrilled that so many cities have joined the effort," New Haven Mayor Toni Harp said in a statement. "This clearly demonstrates a high demand by cities for next-generation infrastructure to drive economic growth and social progress through the entire state."

The effort in Connecticut is similar to plans already under way in North Carolina. Two years ago, six cities in the Triangle Park and Piedmont Triad region of North Carolina came together to propose building a regional fiber network to deliver high-speed broadband. The North Carolina Next Generation Network, or NCNGN, was created to coordinate the efforts of attracting network providers to build and operate the network and work with local communities.

AT&T, which has launched a gigabit fiber network in Austin, Texas, is one of the broadband providers involved in the North Carolina project. The communities' interest in such a network has also attracted the notice of Google, which is also eyeing the region for expansion of its Google Fiber broadband network.

Officials in Connecticut are hopeful that the fiber network they build throughout their state will attract a similar response from new competitors, as well as from broadband companies already delivering service in the state.

"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," William Vallee, the state's broadband policy coordinator, said in a statement. "That said, incumbent telephone and cable operators are logical respondents since they are already providing Internet service across the state."

Community leaders in Connecticut have good reason to believe their efforts will lead to improved services at lower prices for consumers. Competition, or at least the threat of competition, in markets where fiber broadband is being built has resulted in more choice, faster broadband speeds and better pricing for consumers.

Google, which first announced plans to build a gigabit fiber network in 2010, has helped set the stage for communities and private companies to come together in building new fiber networks capable of delivering ultrahigh-speed networks. And now cities around the country are working with private broadband providers to build such networks.

Google was the first company to build an ultrahigh-speed broadband network and offer download and upload speeds of 1Gbps for less than $100 a month. This bold move finally made very fast broadband affordable to average consumers. Google Fiber was first launched in Kansas City. Now Google is moving onto other markets, such as Provo, Utah, and Austin, Texas.

Meanwhile, incumbent broadband providers have responded to Google's foray into the market, and they've adopted the company's playbook of working with local governments. For instance, since the search giant announced it would offer Google Fiber in Austin, broadband competitor AT&T has also launched 1Gbps service there. And it priced this service at less than $100 a month to compete with Google. Another small cable operator in that same market also increased its broadband speeds to 1Gbps and dropped pricing down to $65 in order to beat Google's offer.

Smaller operators have also begun building fiber broadband networks to offer gigabit Internet access. In 2013, regional wireless carrier C Spire announced plans for its 1Gbps fiber network in Mississippi. Like Google, C Spire will offer the ultrahigh-speed service at more-affordable prices.

Even providers offering service on established fiber networks are lowering prices on their services. For example, Chattanooga, Tenn., which was at the forefront of developing a 1Gbps fiber network, previously charged $300 a month for its service. It now charges a similar price to Google, around $70 a month.

There's no guarantee that Google or another disruptive broadband company will bid to be a part of Connecticut's efforts to build its high-speed network, but the fact that cities are showing strong interest in working with the private sector to launch such a network is a good sign.

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