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Across New England, local-controlled, publicly-owned Internet infrastructure is on the rise -- from Bar Harbor, Maine to the Berkshires of Massachusetts. In Connecticut, however, it’s a different story. The Constitution State is a municipal broadband desert.
That may be changing, however, as Bristol (pop. 60,000) inches closer to becoming the first city in Connecticut to transform itself into a fountain of community-owned connectivity as city officials consider whether to use its federal American Rescue Plans Act (ARPA) funds to build a citywide open access fiber network. With $28 million in ARPA funds at its disposal, city officials have been in a months-long process of deciding how much, if any, of that money should be spent building fiber optic infrastructure.
The city’s chief technology staff has been working with a consultant to draft design recommendations for the network, which were anticipated to be presented to both City Council and the Financial Board in August or September.
“That plan has been completed but has not been presented to City officials as of yet,” City Chief Information Officer Scott Smith told ILSR in an email. “The consultants would like to present their plan in person to City officials and so we thought it might be more prudent to have them present it at an upcoming meeting of the Mayor’s ARPA Task Force. We are hoping that we can use some of the ARPA funds to fund a portion of this broadband buildout, especially in the areas of the City where we have a significant digital divide.”
Building this infrastructure would increase competition and address local concerns about the lack of reliable, affordable, high-speed Internet access.
“With the covid pandemic, it catapulted it to the top (of concerns),” Smith told the Bristol Press. “We have a digital divide issue in Bristol that is quite large.”