Gov. Ned Lamont will push for broadband expansion to boost education, economic development

Christopher Keating, Hartford Courant

Gov. Ned Lamont said Wednesday his administration will be pushing private companies to expand broadband access across Connecticut to help remote learning for education and spur economic development.

Lamont told first selectmen from the Council of Small Towns that he will offer a bill next month with his two-year budget with the goal of increasing the reach of high-speed internet. With help from the charitable foundation of Greenwich billionaire Ray Dalio, numerous laptops have already been delivered around the state so that students have easier access to the internet and families can participate in telehealth meetings with their doctors during the coronavirus pandemic.

But Lamont said the effort needs to go further.

”We’re going to be introducing a bill that will require the telecom companies to build out broadband access to all of our people,’' Lamont said. “How fast you do that, how that’s positioned, whether that’s hard cable, whether that’s 5G — I’d like to leave that a little bit to the business community. That’s the world I come from. They know how to get there perhaps best. We know where we’ve got to go.”

He added, “Broadband is going to be a big priority. It’s absolutely invaluable for a lot of our towns. If you can do everything ... from Brooklyn, Connecticut, that you can from Brooklyn, New York, you’re going to have a lot more young families, a lot more vibrancy. You don’t have to be in that big city five days a week.”

A longtime Greenwich resident who grew up on Long Island, Lamont said the pandemic has prompted thousands of New Yorkers to flee Manhattan and head to Connecticut for more space and a less-hectic lifestyle. Those New Yorkers have contributed to the economy and have helped spur the red-hot real estate market in many parts of the state, he said.

“For the first time in maybe a generation, we have tens of thousands of people not only taking a second look at Connecticut, but moving to Connecticut,” Lamont, 67, told the local leaders via Zoom. “That’s not just in Fairfield County. My understanding is it’s more broad-based than that. I think there’s a couple of reasons for that. Maybe there’s a sense that this is not our last pandemic. … Maybe it’s nice not having to take a subway to work or be dependent upon an elevator. There are a lot of things about Connecticut’s lifestyle which has people taking a second look. It may be that more of our schools are open than anybody else in the region. We’ve got some work to do on that, but I think that was appreciated.”

House Speaker Matt Ritter of Hartford made the first reference to Lamont’s upcoming broadband bill when he appeared on the conference call before Lamont spoke.

“Stay tuned,” Ritter told the local leaders. “The governor’s budget will have a big proposal” on broadband.

Christopher Keating can be reached at ckeating@courant.com.