Connecticut’s Digital Equity Plan Floats Internet Rate Regulation
By Ted Hearn, Editor of Policyband
Washington, D.C., Dec. 23, 2023 – Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont on Friday announced that the state had finished work on a draft digital equity plan funded by the Biden Administration’s Internet for All Initiative. Throughout the document, state officials stressed the need for Internet affordability and quoted residents in favor of regulating the rates of Internet Service Providers (ISPs).
Connecticut’s plan – a 338-page document prepared by the state’s Department of Administrative Services’ Commission for Educational Technology – is called “Connecticut: Everyone Connected.” After taking in public feedback and making revisions, Lamont’s government intends to release a final digital equity plan by the end of March 2024.
“Connecticut has taken significant steps to close the digital divide in our state,” Lamont, a Democrat, said in a press release. “The goals in the ‘Everyone Connected’ plan extend that work, from connections and computers to training and support that help improve the lives of all residents.”
The state commission developed the plan after “in-depth research into the barriers to technology access,” drawing on input provided by more than 7,000 Connecticut residents over the past year.
One goal of the digital equity plan is to ensure “residents have options for getting online that are affordable and meet their needs.”
The digital equity plan refers to rate regulation several times as an approach to achieving affordability.
In summarizing conversations with unnamed state residents, the digital equity plans says:
◾ “Participants suggest that the government should allocate resources, regulate Internet service providers, and collaborate with community centers and libraries to ensure that necessary resources are accessible to all individuals.”
◾ "Lowering the cost of Internet services is a recurring theme, with participants suggesting reduced pricing or even free Internet for all individuals, regardless of income. Free, high-quality Internet for all was suggested several times by participants, due to the public nature of this service and its exceeding benefits to the economy and well-being of communities.”
◾ "Furthermore, participants underscore the importance of government regulation to ensure consistent pricing structures and quality of service across providers. Participants indicate that government should play an active role in regulating Internet service providers, ensuring consistent pricing structures, and collaborating with community centers and libraries to provide necessary resources and support.”
The draft digital equity plans did not indicate whether the final report will embrace rate regulation. But the per-household cost of broadband Internet access appears to be a big concern for state regulators. The draft plan mentions “affordability” 82 times and “affordable” 116 times.
Connecticut, the wealthiest U.S. state by per capita income, has 3.6 million people and 1.4 million households. The draft plans said that so far 70,000 households have enrolled in the federal Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which provides a $30 discount on monthly Internet bills and other benefits.
“These benefits totaled just over $2.25 million in the first few months of 2023 alone. An additional 5% of Connecticut households had completed the federal enrollment process but had not yet begun to receive home Internet benefits as of that date. This suggests that up to 10% of households in Connecticut may rely on the ACP to provide or supplement their monthly Internet service” the draft plan said.
The ACP is expected to run out of money next April. The Biden White House has requested $6 billion from Congress to keep ACP running.