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East Hartford, Conn., Expects Townwide Gig Internet by 2023

Within about two years, East Hartford, Conn., expects to have the capacity to offer 10GB Internet speeds to every household and business. The project is possible due to a $40 million private investment.

fiber optic cables
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(TNS) — A $40 million private investment will make East Hartford a fiber optic hub for the fastest Internet speed available in the nation, government officials announced Monday.

Surveying and engineering work is underway, and SiFi Networks will start installing lines underground throughout town, making connections available to every home and business by late 2023, Mayor Marcia Leclerc and company officials said at a press conference in the newly renovated senior center.

The East Hartford FiberCity network, offering speeds up to 10gbps, promises better and more widely available connections for town residents and a boost for local economic development. Gov. Ned Lamont, whose business background is in the cable TV industry, said fast, reliable connectivity is a priority for business owners considering a move or expansion in the state. His pitch to those businesses, Lamont said, “has a new paragraph” — promoting East Hartford as a center for blazing fast Internet access.

The governor and other officials said connectivity also is vital to students, workers and health care patients and providers. Lt. Gov. Susan Bysewicz said the local network promises to transform the “digital divide” between poor and minority students and their better-off counterparts.

“Broadband,” Lamont said, “is not just a way to stream movies or scroll through social media on your phone. Access to affordable and high-speed broadband is what allows families to have uninterrupted Internet when their children have homework to complete, and it allows mom or dad to have a reliable connection for their job interview.”

While acknowledging the local benefits, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said public investment is the only way to make such broadband widely available. The coronavirus pandemic, the senator said, proved that connectivity is crucial to everyone. The $65 billion broadband package in the infrastructure bill before Congress includes $42.5 billion for unserved and underserved areas of the nation.

East Hartford was chosen for the project, SiFi representatives said, in large part because of Leclerc’s engagement and persistence in bringing high-speed Internet to the town, which the state designates a “distressed municipality” due to its poverty level, unemployment and other factors.

“From the beginning, East Hartford shared our vision for a connected community,” SiFi CEO Ben Bawtree-Jobson said.

Leclerc said the town had been part of the CT Gig Project, a statewide discussion on high-speed Internet access launched in 2014. When that project withered, Leclerc pressed forward and issued a request for proposals for local high-speed Internet, an unusual RFP, she acknowledged, because it sought service with no public funds involved.

Bawtree-Jobson said the company plans to recoup its investment over a long period by attracting Internet service providers of all sizes. Company representatives said the shared network will be “open access” to promote competitive services and pricing.

The first service provider to sign on was Flume Internet, a New York-based company that will connect homes and businesses to the main fiber optic lines, SiFi officials said. Asked how much individual homeowners will pay for a connection, company officials said they did not have that information yet, but 3,000 East Hartford homes will get deeply discounted connections.

The pandemic slowed the rollout of East Hartford FiberCity, officials said, but the first customers should have access by next year. A “micro-trenching” machine will cut a 1 1/4-inch-wide by 1 foot-deep incision in the street near the curb to lay the fiber line, company officials said.

SiFi also is building FiberCity networks in Fullerton and Placentia, California, and is due to start construction in Salem, Massachusetts and Saratoga Springs, New York, officials said.

©2021 Hartford Courant. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.