Ridgefield seeks federal funds for broadband, high-speed internet

RIDGEFIELD — The town aims to take advantage of prospective federal funds to ensure every resident has access to broadband, high-speed internet service.

Toward that end, Ridgefield has entered into an agreement with a software development company to conduct a feasibility analysis to see how close the town is toward achieving high-speed internet for all. A town survey found that residents and businesses rated their internet service poorly.

“This is a fiber that sends light signals so the amount of information you can transmit is almost limitless and the speed is beyond anything we ever experienced,” said Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi, when describing broadband.

The town’s goal pertains to the approval of the government’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which will deliver $65 billion to help ensure that every American has access to reliable high-speed internet through a historic investment in broadband infrastructure deployment.

In 2023, the government will see which towns are “shovel ready for broadband” and will allocate $40 billion to those projects. Municipalities that are mapped with “shovel ready” plans in place will be best positioned for that funding.

To help get the town “shovel ready,” Marconi signed a tri-party contract between the town of Ridgefield, the Western Connecticut Council of Governments, and EntryPoint Networks, a software development company to conduct a Broadband Feasibility Analysis.

“The first stage is a broadband feasibility study to try to decide a number of things like where are the fiber lines right now? What type of structure are you going to have for fiber? Is it going to be a private model, a public- private partnership, or a public only? Is it going to be open access?” said Glori Norwitt, chairman of the town’s Economic & Community Development Commission.

She added having robust broadband networks is “critical infrastructure for Ridgefield” and said she has been pushing for the town to begin a feasibility study since March.

She said, according to EntryPoint, it will take approximately four months to complete the study.

The Western Connecticut Council of Governments, or WestCOG, will fund the $35,000 study through its grant program.

The next stage in getting broadband for the entire town will be an engineering study that would involve the specifics of the locations in town for the implementation of the fiber. The study will be able to tell exactly how many homes have broadband. Norwitt said leftover American Rescue Plan Act funds might be available to pay for that study.

Need for Broadband

The town has recognized a need for high-speed internet service for several years.

Ridgefield’s 2020 Plan of Conservation & Development said an objective of the town is to promote high speed/high capacity broadband service for all parts of the town.

Additionally, in 2021, the first selectman’s office conducted Ridgefield’s “Internet Service Provider Customer Satisfaction Survey,” to which the town received a “D” rating.

In all, about 10 percent of Ridgefield’s households and businesses, responded ranking their residential and business internet service.

Residents ranked their current internet service as a “D+” and businesses ranked their current internet service as a “D.”

For residential internet service:

  • 85 percent of the town uses Comcast as their internet service provider, 15 percent use Frontier (the State Broadband Office considers anyone with Frontier service to have sub-broadband speeds due to outdated infrastructure lacking basic broadband speeds of 25 megabits per second/3 megabits per second)
  • 72 percent regularly experience brief service interruptions
  • 61 percent experience slowdowns when multiple people are using the internet in the business or household
  • 10 percent experience no problems at all

For business internet service:

  • 10 percent complain of slowdowns when multiple people use the internet
  • 8 percent report buggering or lag while streaming video
  • 12 percent report brief service disruptions
  • Businesses along the Route 7 corridor report their business internet service goes down at least once a week.

Recently, the town was planning to allocate $45,000 of its American Rescue Plan Act funds toward a broadband study. However, once WestCOG offered to fund the study, the town decided to use those funds.

“Our goal is to provide open access. What that means is that if we can get this infrastructure built with money from the federal government … open access would allow you to choose who you want to do business with and not have Frontier tell you , you have to accept their products or Comcast, you have to accept their products. This opens up the playing field and makes it a much more competitive market for all of the residents in our town,” Marconi said. “This is something that we really want to provide for our community and we want to be at the head of the line when the money comes out from the federal government.”