Over the past decade Connecticut has spent more than $100 million to create an internet provider for schools and libraries, a mission that will evolve if pending legislation proposed by Gov. Dannel Malloy passes.
The proposal, S.B. 847, would change the charge of the Connecticut Education Network from providing subsidized internet to local schools and libraries to providing internet at “reasonable rates” to any interested customers, putting it in a position to compete with private internet providers.
It is unclear if the changes will mean schools and libraries will have to start paying for service from the network.
“Current state funding allows for services to be provided to K-12 and Libraries without charge,” said Mark Raymond, chief information officer for the Department of Administrative Services. “I cannot predict if that will change, however, there has been no conversation about charging the schools or libraries.”
“Private institutions of higher education already pay for CEN. State Colleges and Universities also pay to receive CEN services,” Raymond said.
In addition to $120 million in capital investments, CEN has annual costs of $10 million, according to a January presentation by DAS.
The legislation changes CEN’s governing body from the Commission for Educational Technology into the Commission for Technology Advancement.
The newly formed agency will no longer have to provide internet access to all public schools and libraries. The bill also charges the commission to increase and improve “usage of high-speed, cost effective network technology to meet collaboration demand of state and local government and private industry.”
The CEN is now considered part of the Nutmeg Network, which also includes the Public Safety Data Network and the Connecticut Open Access Network.
The creation of the open network was a condition of a $94-million federal grant, part of the Broadband Technologies Opportunities Program.
“As a condition of the federal grant, the network must support ‘Open Access’ use of the network. Open Access allows for any entity to join the network at a fair price without discrimination,” CEN explains in a brochure. “We anticipate many municipalities, state agencies and some public companies will be interested in using the network.”
Other attempts by public agencies to compete in the telecommunications market have not always been successful. Last year, the city of Groton sold its government-owned cable company for $150,000 leaving its municipal utility with $28 million in debt to repay over the next 14 years at an annual cost of $2.5 million. The city sold the company rather than continue to absorb $2.5 million in operating losses – above and beyond the capital costs – each year.
The General Assembly’s planning and development committee will hold a public hearing on the bill 6 p.m. Monday, March 11, at 50 Chapman St., East Hartford.