With all the hype around Google Fiber it is easy to be jealous of people in places like Kansas City that have gigabit Internet. That is why I was glad to see that yesterday Comptroller Kevin Lembo and New Haven Mayor Toni Harp testified in favor of An Act Concerning Gigabit Internet Access. The bill itself is a placeholder so it takes some digging to figure out what exactly is happening. Fortunately the Office of Consumer Counsel and Comptroller’s Office have both been putting out a lot of material on this effort that I describe and link below.
What do the existing broadband companies think?
Predictably their submitted testimony discusses the work they have done so far, says that the situation is not bad, and that gigabit service is already available. However testimony from Katz and Lembo include anecdotes about companies that were not able to acquire gigabit service or could only do so at prohibitive prices and a slow pace. The existing companies are likely concerned about increased competition. Maybe that is why the New Haven Register reports that Comcast is planning on rolling out gigabit service soon.
What actual changes are being made to the law to facilitate this?
So far not many that I can discern. Previously a law was passed that gave towns access rights to part of the utility poles in their towns. Presumably they would then use this right to allow the buildout of their community network. Sen. Looney proposed creating an Office of Broadband Advocacy under the Office of Consumer Counsel. On the federal level Rosa DeLauro recently re-introduced a bill to create and fund a public bank that would provide loans and loan guarentees for infrastructure projects like the community broadband networks, but without bipartisan support it is unlikely to pass.
How close are we to doing this?
Part of the proposal by Katz is to develop community networks that connect to the Nutmeg Network. The Nutmeg Network already provides gigabit Internet service to educational institutions and governments in Connecticut. I used the Nutmeg Network when I was a student at UConn Law and it is fast and reliable. The goal, as described by Katz, is to get private companies to build out the last-mile of the network and then for multiple ISPs to offer service across it.1 If rollout runs on a timetable similar to Google Fiber it would take a little over a year from when a company announces it is bringing service to a municipality to having it go live.2
Will this cost taxpayers money?
So far it does not appear to be an expensive proposal. The Nutmeg Network is already built, and the utility poles are also already there. State government would merely be leveraging its existing resources and allow private companies access to build the gigabit service. However even if it does cost money, these kinds of infrastrcuture projects often return much more in economic benefit than is spent.