A little background first. Our target from the beginning was a regional network over most if not all of our 25 municipalities to realize economies of scale and have enough prospective homes to attract private partners. We got support from most elected officials in the region, but each had reservations about getting their own communities to pay the municipal share. But we also heard from prospective partners that they would not deal with a group of individual towns, insisting instead on a single regional, independent organization with which to work. There is no legal precedent in Connecticut for such an organization. It was also felt by many that getting towns to agree on terms and conditions would be very difficult (read “impossible”).
We were still on this track until a May 2018 decision from the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) denied municipalities access to utility poles for commercial broadband networks under the one law that authorized it “for any purpose.” That ruling has happily been overturned by a Connecticut appellate court and the law itself restored to its obvious meaning. However, we did not expect this; we excepted a long progress through appellate stages that would last another three years. We were happily wrong. However, after the initial ruling it looked as if every municipality would have to construct a municipal electric utility to get access to utility poles for a broadband network (allowed under Connecticut law). As this added complexity and more legal obstacles, we decided it would be best to get one town to forge the trail. We chose Norfolk, which already had an electric utility initiative underway.
Having adopted this strategy we decided it was still the best under the new (as in original) conditions. Norfolk has a team committed to the cause, a group of supporters from every corner of the town, a head start on the mechanics of community funding, the full support of its selectmen, EDC, and P&Z. It has developed relationships with a supplier who is willing to take on such a small community. It is working out the financial details and creating several payment scenarios. It is targeting a community vote at this year’s municipal election in November 2020. When this complex program has taken shape and realized its goal Norfolk will supply us with a roadmap that may be used by any other community.
Meanwhile, at least one other community is seriously exploring an option that would not require community funding, but would expense universal service, at least at the outset. Two other communities are moving into the “we must do this” tent. The impact of the legal congestion being cleared away will be felt by others, we believe. Our Council of Governments (COG) is sponsoring a second round of community outreach, funded by the state, that will be able to give much more detailed expression to what we think can be done than our first round, which was largely exploratory.
Movement can also be felt on the economic development front. Under the aegis of the Rural Labs initiative and with some state funding, we are beginning to explore relationships with large corporations that would be willing to provide work-at-home privileges to people moving here. This will have the bilateral effect of stimulating them to promote the idea within their own companies and provide for us the networking protocols related to security, speeds, and reliability they will require for access to their own data centers. This is our best chance for increasing our young population in the near term. Others will develop as the networks develop, but this effort can be started now.
This was written in the second week of January 2020. We will update this section as we have definitive news to report.