Roberta Willis served us for sixteen years as a representative to the state assembly. She had grown weary of pleading with Comcast to provide broadband access to her many unserved constituents and getting nowhere. Everyone should have broadband access.
She also sensed that rapid growth in data rates, from dial-up modems 20 years ago to 50 mbps cable connections now, would not stop. Frontier and CATV have old networks nearing the end of their useful lives. The future needs something new. “We got touchtone dialing last,” she said to herself: “we need the future soon, indeed, first for a change.” Her answer was a fiber optic network at gigabit rates sooner rather than later.
“If we had a gigabit network first, connecting everyone, we could really go after the sagging population of young people in our region with high-tech jobs. We could dissipate the digital divide in education. We could enable future telemedicine for our aging population, perhaps save rural medicine.” She could see a turn in our quality of life from a drift downward to a bright, well-lit future.
These few simple words—everyone, the future first, jobs, life—moved her to strike the match that lit the initiative we now call Northwest Connect.
Roberta pulled a board together that now comprises seven elected or appointed officials and a strong technology contingent. We have close relations with the Northwest Hills Council of Governments (NHCOG). We have obtained $250,000 in state grants, the only state grants made to community telecommunications efforts over the last three years. We have surveyed our broadband and mobile access gaps and data rates. We have studied the legal conditions around municipal broadband and formed a business model that works within them assuming a few tweaks to the law. We have conducted extensive reviews with prospective partners and developed an economic model of a future network. We are fully poised now to take the last critical step—persuading our communities to share in the costs. The costs are a fraction of the costs of roads and sewer systems. But broadband is now as essential as roads, as electricity, as indoor plumbing. Everyone should have it.
Our region comprises 25 municipalities in the northwest corner: 21 from the NHCOG and four located south of the COG who have expressed interest in a new universal network. We are not restricted to this group nor do we need all municipalities to participate to have a viable business proposition. The 25-town region has 180,000 residents, 75,000 homes, and 2250 miles of road, the key parameters for puzzling out a network. Our region is larger than any single city in Connecticut.
A new fiber optic regional network has three parts: a trunk system of fiber optic cables strung along poles or located underground; drop–wire single fiber connections from a pole to the home and all electronics and wiring in the home; and a regional network of switches and fiber optic connections that link the local system to a state back-haul network that connects the regional network to the Internet and other services. The three parts are analogous to city streets, driveways and garages, and the national highway system, or sewer lines under the street, laterals into homes and indoor plumbing, and sewage treatment plants delivering clean water to rivers and lakes. We have fashioned a business model by which municipalities own the trunk wiring on the poles and private partners supply wiring to the premises, all electronics, and services over the network. The model follows the way we organize roads and sewer systems.
We have not consummated a deal with anyone. In practical terms we cannot until some legal problems are worked out with the state and enough municipalities have agreed to the financing terms to make the business numbers run. However, we have had serious discussions with enough vendors to know that we can do the network on the terms proposed. We are working closely now with a back-haul vendor and ISP, a telephone service vendor, a construction vendor, and more than one organization interested in the long term business prospects in home networking and network operations.
Northwest Connect now works with the NHCOG to shape and implement an economic development plan. Anchoring the plan is a regional fiber optic network. But the plan focuses on a few target business areas that appear favorable to our region—agriculture, rural health care, education, and real estate. To make progress in these areas as well as the network itself we have formed five innovation committees whose membership includes community and business leaders in each segment. Should you have an interest in helping any of these committees please let us know.
Health Care Projects issues in regional health care and develops some practical ideas for remediation and new products that depend upon emerging technologies.
Agriculture Projects regional issues in small-farm agriculture and develops some practical ideas for remediation and new products that depend upon emerging technologies.
Education Projects regional issues in education and develops some practical ideas for remediation and new products that depend upon emerging technologies.
Real Estate Projects regional issues in real estate and develops plans for promoting regional real estate for young people moving here to work in emerging technologies
Venture Capital Builds a network of venture capitalist to work with prospective start-ups or relatively new and small businesses in the areas of health care, agriculture, and education that can capitalize on America’s first fully wired gigabit region.