The correlation between having ubiquitous high-speed broadband at affordable prices with economic vitality is both well-establish and undeniable. Where having access to modern railroads, highways and airports, along with a favorable business climate and quality education, remain top priorities for business locating in an area; the presence of ubiquitous broadband not only is on the list of company “must haves” but is moving up fast.
In the United States, where companies in a connected world have made such access to broadband a priority, and where there is intense competition between states and regions to keep existing enterprises and attract new ones, the word of the day is “Gigabit.” If your state does not have it widely deployed and at popular prices, the consequences can be significant. And, while there is a push on for at all levels of government to close the “digital divide” and provide broadband, whether fixed or wireless, and even interest by service providers to maximize the business opportunity the thirst for speed creates, the need to accelerate deployment and adoption has never been more pressing. This is particularly true here in TMC’s home state of Connecticut where job growth has stagnated and old industrial cities are grappling with all of the challenges of stimulating interest in their localities to increase their tax base and assure on prosperous future.
With this as their focus and with the stated goal of making Connecticut “the first gigabit state”, New Haven Mayor Toni N. Harp, West Hartford Deputy Mayor Shari Cantor, Stamford Mayor David R. Martin and state Senator Beth Bye (D-West Hartford), state Comptroller Kevin Lembo and Consumer Counsel Elin Swanson Katz today issued a global call for companies and organizations to develop ultra-high-speed gigabit (“gig”) Internet networks in the three cities.
The mayors issued a joint Request for Qualifications (“RFQ”) seeking information and dialogue with interested parties, hoping to increase access to ultra-high-speed gigabit networks in their cities and throughout Connecticut while simultaneously reducing the cost of such networks for businesses, high-tech industry, universities, homeowners and other users.
This is an ambitious objective since gig networks deliver speeds of up to 1,000 megabits per second (Mbps), more than 100 times faster than the average home speed of about 9 Mbps.
The mayors’ RFQ has three goals:
•Create a world-leading gigabit-capable network in targeted commercial corridors – as well as in residential areas with demonstrated demand – in order to foster innovation, drive job creation and stimulate economic growth.
•Provide free or heavily discounted 10-100 MB (minimum) Internet service over a wired or wireless network to underserved and disadvantaged residential areas across the territories and diverse demographics.
•Deliver gigabit Internet service at prices comparable to other gigabit fiber communities across the nation.
The municipal effort grew from an April conference in Hartford on gigabit networks that was hosted by the Office of Consumer Counsel.
Calling for action
Statements from those calling for action are instructive. “As soon as we started the conversation about gig networks, we heard from businesses, universities, high-tech start-ups, mayors and first selectmen – really such a variety of stakeholders – about how greater Internet speeds at lower costs are essential to their functioning,” Katz said. Over the summer, Katz embarked on a series of listening-tour meetings across Connecticut (in conjunction with the Connecticut Technology Council) to gauge interest and support for gig networks.
“We knew it was an important economic development tool, but we’ve learned gig networks are also essential for medicine, precision manufacturing, education, e-government, just so many different people in different sectors are clamoring for gig networks,” Katz said.
“It’s time we tear down the walls to gigabit Internet access in Connecticut,” said Sen. Bye, who along with Katz has been a prime mover in this municipal Internet enterprise. “Not only will businesses and universities thrive, but consumers will benefit from the lower prices and wider access that this initiative will create. We have the will and I believe we have the ability to make this happen for Connecticut.”
New Haven, Stamford and West Hartford have created a unique, “open” RFQ.
“These three cities have stepped out front to lead this project, but everyone involved in this project recognizes that there is strength in numbers,” Katz said. “They are therefore inviting any municipality in the state to join the conversation by simply submitting an addendum describing their town’s interest and assets. I don’t think there’s been anything quite like it around the country.”
“This project is an important step toward making Connecticut the first gigabit state,” Comptroller Lembo said. “It would be the ultimate economic assistance and incentive program – rewarding all business and industry with an infrastructure worthy of settling in Connecticut. It would serve as an open door to all businesses, including new ones and those already established here. The leadership of Mayors Harp, Martin and Cantor benefits not only their communities, but every community in Connecticut.”
“This collaboration among our cities and these state-level groups will lead Connecticut forward and avoid a damaging digital divide that could hinder the progress of residents, students, researchers and those doing business in our state,” New Haven Mayor Toni N. Harp said. “We’re eager to see what the market brings to our cities so we can put this technology in place to support commerce and new business in today’s digital, knowledge-based economy.”
West Hartford Deputy Mayor Shari Cantor explained her community’s interest in the RFQ.
“West Hartford is a thriving community that is comfortable being a leader in the state and the region,” she said. “We understand that we need to pursue the highway of the future, high-speed Internet, to position our community and our state to compete nationally and globally and remain a top-ranked community to live, work and play.”
Charles Ward, chief information officer and technology analyst for a private investment firm in West Hartford, noted the many advantages of low-cost gig networks.
“There’s no better example of how transformative gig Internet service can be than in Kansas City, where Google Fiber offers $70 a month Gig service. In Kansas City, in both Missouri and Kansas, they’ve seen existing Internet providers cut their prices, even if they couldn’t match the speed of Google Fiber,” he said. “Real estate prices have skyrocketed, fueled by 20-somethings attracted to the area’s emerging startup scene who are working on what could be the next Google or Facebook.”
Ward also applauded Connecticut’s “bold investment” in The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine (JAX) in Farmington, “where genomics research using bioinformatics will generate oceans of data.” He questioned, however, how Jackson Lab’s employees would be able to access and work with the data from home without gig Internet service.
“Stamford is always looking toward the future,” said Mayor Martin. “As part of our city’s economic development strategy, it is important that Stamford continue to be on the leading edge of a technology that helps our local businesses be on the forefront of their own markets. It’s essential that the municipalities in this state work together as a whole on this project in order to help Connecticut achieve the success it is looking for.”
In making the announcement of the RFQ, a number of business leaders in the state lent their support to the effort. Plus, Blair Levin, Executive Director of Gig.U (a broad-based group of over 30 leading research universities across the U. S.), and an author of the National Broadband Plan (who went to school at prestigious Yale University in New Haven), served as an advisor to the Office of Consumer Counsel on the project. He noted that: “Throughout our nation’s history, Connecticut cities have been leaders in inventing the future. With this RFQ, Connecticut cities are again staking a claim to lead in the 21st century global information economy.”
The RFQ, with instructions for submitting a municipal referendum, is available online at ct.gov/occ and http://www.cityofnewhaven.com/PurchasingBureauOnline/index.asp. The City of New Haven will administer and coordinate the RFQ for the municipalities.
While TMC is hardly a disinterested party regarding this initiative since we would benefit tremendously if it has the impact its sponsors want, we also admire that the mayors and their allies are not waiting around in the hope that the region gets gig nets at some point. There is little doubt that this effort is extremely important to the economic future of the state. Using the RFQ to rally support and catch the attention of service providers is a great tool for getting things moving. We will keep you posted on just how effective as the process unfolds.
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