What Is It
We are proposing a regional fiber optic network covering 25 or more communities in northwest Connecticut. The network would be “universal,” connecting every home and business in the region. The network would connect users to telephone, television, Internet, and auxiliary services, with Internet speeds up to (and later above) 1 gbps, in both directions. Once the fiber lines are mounted on telephone poles, we would be able to install small cell antennas on the same poles and connect them into mobile networks using the fiber optic lines, thus enhancing our mobile network and preparing it for eventual 5G services.
Our regional telephone network cannot deliver broadband services as currently defined (25 mbps downstream minimum). Our CATV network can deliver adequate speeds for most applications today, but they only connect through subscriptions around 60% of our homes and they do not even reach a significant number of our homes. Both our telephone and CATV companies could bring fiber optics to our homes, but they have not started elsewhere and when they start, if they start, we will be last.
Our fiber optic network will connect everyone. It will provide all the speed anyone will ever need to everyone. It is future proof, and will bring the future to our region sooner rather than later.
A fiber optic network brings economic benefits, community benefits, and individual benefits. It will serve as the backbone of new businesses devoted to information technology or requiring information technology, which new businesses will attract young people to our region. In particular it will enable a focused program around new wellness initiatives that will save our hospitals and promote better living for all. It will enhance community safety through ubiquitous communications. It will fill all the gaps in education caused by slender broadband services. It will reduce consumer costs for telephone and television, and it will foster the digital home, a home without internal wiring (television sets can be anywhere and moved anywhere) and one prepared for the future in video security, home management, and the Internet of Things.
Community fiber optic networks have been installed in more than 100 municipalities in the last few years. The technology is mature, the problems and costs known, the real challenge more in maintenance and operations after the network is constructed than the construction itself, but even that is well within the capacities of any private partner with whom we would work. We are in the process now of soliciting interest from prospective partners for construction, maintenance, and services.
The central problem is not technical, it is financial. We have a thin housing footprint. No private partner will fund the network entirely. We have to contribute some portion of the network’s initial costs. We are proposing community contributions in excess of what would be required to just close the gap so that the partnership delivers a revenue stream to the communities as a sharing of profits.
Our communities are generally reluctant to increase taxes or absorb other forms of debt that appear to increase individual costs. We respect this reluctance; most of our board shares this reluctance. But this is not paying for the past, how we might think of costs for schools, roads, snow plowing, administration, pensions, and facilities. This is an investment in the future.
We are going to spend the rest of 2017 and the first half of 2018 explaining what we are doing to every elected official and every significant stake holder in the region. We will then hold a major regional conference in May of 2018, at which time we will have all partner, financial, and scheduling details finalized. The summer of 2018 will tell the tale—communities will be asked to vote for funds. If we are successful, engineering will begin in the fall, first construction in early 2019, the network completed in 2021.