By STEPHEN SINGER
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Connecticut is taking a slow approach to super-fast Internet.
As of last week, 10 Connecticut municipalities were the first to commit to an initiative inviting telecommunications and other businesses for ideas to build and finance Internet service of up to 1,000 megabits _ 1 gigabit _ per second. That’s more than 100 times faster than what home speed now delivers.
Comptroller Kevin Lembo and Consumer Counsel Elin Swanson Katz, who are helping to lead the state effort, compare high-speed broadband to a critical utility, no different than electricity or home heating. They also promote it as a form of economic development to lure and keep businesses in the state.
“It’s the ultimate infrastructure development,” Lembo said.
While many Internet users believe current speeds are sufficient, service is getting faster and leading businesses and individuals who rely on data and streaming to expect ever-faster downloads. In addition, businesses and state agencies that move tremendous amounts of data would require super-fast Internet.
Several U.S. cities are striking deals with AT&T, Google and smaller companies and utilities to expand high-speed service into what’s called the gigasphere. Such speeds are common in parts of Asia and Northern Europe, but are rarer in the U.S., where some rural households still use slow dial-up services. In addition, Internet providers have been reluctant to spend the billions of dollars needed to extend fiber-optic cables into homes, relying on the slower, but still effective, cable TV lines.
The city of Louisville, which is further along in its broadband program, is getting estimates of between $150 million and $200 million to connect about 500,000 residents. The next question is who pays: taxpayers or Internet companies that recoup their investment from customers in the form of rates, charges or fees.
The biggest cost is the “last mile,” connecting the Internet house-to-house, said Ted Smith, Louisville’s chief of civic innovation.
Louisville changed regulations for the city to be more “fiber-friendly,” expedited the process to get a franchise and made other changes, he said. “There’s no way to wave a wand and attract fiber companies,” Smith said.
Officials in the Connecticut municipalities of Fairfield, Madison, Manchester, Meriden, Middletown, Milford, New Haven, Norwalk, Stamford and West Hartford issued a request to companies to indicate an interest in working on gigabit Internet access. More than two dozen other municipalities have expressed an interest in joining the effort, Lembo and Katz said.
Among the goals are to create a gigabit-capable network for targeted businesses and residential areas with a “demonstrated demand” to drive job creation and stimulate economic growth. The call also seeks to provide free or heavily discounted Internet service of between 10 and 100 megabits to underserved and disadvantaged residential areas and deliver gigabit Internet service at prices comparable to other gigabit fiber networks in the United States.
No cost estimate has yet been calculated as officials investigate what’s needed to establish super-fast Internet.
Paul Cianelli, president of the New England Cable and Telecommunications Association, said the industry is already moving with “lightning speed” to reach the gigasphere. The industry has spent $2 billion on the network over the last six years and he questions state involvement.
“This is a business that turns on a dime. Every week there’s a new technology, a new customer,” he said. “Government is ill-suited to get into that business.”
Lembo said state involvement is limited to encouraging municipalities to show an interest to build a large pool of potential users.
“The only thing we’re doing as a state is using the bully pulpit,” he said.