IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

New London, Conn., Continues Internet Expansion Efforts

Officials are working to bridge the city’s digital divide, bringing data to the fight. They hope a resident survey will help to better understand where the need for broadband service is greatest.

internet service providers
Shutterstock/Jakub Krechowicz
(TNS) — One of the most popular items checked-out at the New London Public Library isn't a best-selling beach read or a newly released DVD, but one of the 10 mobile hotspot devices.

The palm-sized devices nestled in padded cases can be borrowed for a week and provide users without home broadband access the ability to connect to the Internet. The items are so popular, there's no wait-list.

"If we have one, it gets checked out," said library Executive Director Madhu Gupta. "Every month we have to replace three of those devices because they're not returned. I think that loss speaks to the need for broadband here in New London."

For the past three years, Director of Human Services Jeanne Milstein and other like-minded city officials have been on a mission to address that broadband vacuum. She said the biggest impediment to that goal hasn't been funding, but rather a lack of information.

"We know there's a disparity, but had no real information, besides anecdotal stories, on who needs this service," Milstein said.

To rectify that problem and get the city ready for an as-yet-unknown amount of anticipated federal funding, the city this month launched a resident survey aimed at quantifying the need for high-speed fiber Internet.

The survey asks participants to identify themselves, where they live and what type of Internet access ― if any ― they currently have. A digital version of the survey offers an Internet speed test.

Milstein said while reliable broadband access has always been an issue for some residents, the COVID-19 pandemic shined a harsh spotlight on the problem.

"We were hearing stories of single mothers with children driving around to parking lots trying to get Wi-Fi connectivity," she said. "Then there were the seniors that couldn't connect to telehealth. It's become a case of survival in some cases."

Gupta said on any given day, several residents are hunkered down in front of one of the library's three dozen public computers or signed onto the free Wi-Fi network to fill out resumes, complete schoolwork or log on to a social media account.

"They're here because in many cases they don't have that access at home," Gupta said.


In 2021, officials announced they were finalizing a plan to extend free Internet access to hundreds of homes via the installation of Wi-Fi transmitters on schools and city-owned buildings.

More recently, $1 million in American Rescue Act Plan funding was initially set aside for broadband expansion, though the bulk of that earmark was later reallocated for other programs.

Mayor Michael Passero said the revamped plan, which replaces the 2021 project, calls for using federal grant money for the work, though there is no timeline on when that funding will be released or exactly how much the city can expect.

"But we've been assured it's coming, which is why we opted not to use ARPA money for this," he said.

The city did use nearly $80,000 worth of ARPA funding to hire the Lit Communications firm which is helping conduct the ongoing survey and specializes in helping municipalities select a broadband option.


A 2022 Connecticut Broadband Report authored by the state Department of Energy & Environmental Protection listed three "essential elements" for productive Internet use: access to an affordable and reliable service plan, a device appropriate to a user's needs and the digital skills necessary to use a connection properly.

Milstein said that last requirement is often overlooked in broadband access conversations.

"We want to build in a digital literacy aspect to our plan since it doesn't do someone a lot of good if you have a device, but don't know you to use it," she said. "And who are the most tech-savvy people? Young people. So, maybe we get stipends to pay them to assist seniors and people with disabilities in how to use their devices."

Meghan Soucier, the city library's digital navigator, said this week alone she walked several patrons through the resume-creation process, something she can do in person, via Zoom or over the phone.

"It might be as simple as teaching them to navigate a cursor properly," she said.

©2023 The Day, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.