‘Everyone Connected.’ Gov. Lamont rolls out 5-year plan to expand internet access

It’s hard to believe in the year 2024, but more than a quarter of all Connecticut residents still aren’t fully connected to the online world.
On Monday, Gov. Ned Lamont rolled out a new five-year plan to bridge the digital divide. But its future could hinge on federal budget talks in Congress.
DIGITAL EQUITY PLAN
 Lamont highlighted “Connecticut Everyone Connected”, the state’s proposed Digital Equity Plan, at the Hamden Public Library.
“You can't play in the 21st century economy unless you – A – have access to high-speed broadband, and – B – know how to use it,” he told reporters.
The state has spent the past year speaking to more than 7,000 residents about barriers to technology access.
According to the massive 341-page plan, 27% of Connecticut residents do not have access to a computer, a smart phone and wired internet. In rural areas, it jumps to 30%. For Black residents, the figure is 37%. And for those who speak limited English, more than half are not fully connected.
“People who are coming into the country are overwhelmed,” said Janelle Rosales, a Hamden library employee who works with new immigrants. “They’re really looking to make a living here, establish a life for themselves. And a lot of the ways that you can do that is through the internet.”
“I KNOW HOW TO E-MAIL NOW”
Shirley Moss is proof that anyone can get tech-savvy.
At 87 years old, Moss was once afraid of the internet. But thanks to weekly classes at the library, the technology now feels manageable.
“I’m still learning how to send an e-mail,” she said. “I mean, not an e-mail, but a text. I know how to e-mail now.”
Three “Digital Ambassadors” teach the classes, teaching people how to do everything from paying their bills, applying for a job and making a FaceTime call with relatives.
For Moss, it’s a way to connect to a changing world.
“I have a grandbaby who's four and can take my cell phone and do whatever you have to do,” she said. “It’s embarrassing.”
FUNDING CONCERNS
Connecticut’s Digital Equity Plan unlocks $150 million in federal funds from the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Part of the money will extend high-speed broadband to rural areas like the Litchfield Hills, as well as underserved urban areas.
But Monday, the state’s congressional delegation warned that future funding could be in jeopardy – depending on what gets cuts in the next federal budget. On Sunday, House Speaker Mike Johnson and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced a preliminary $1.6 trillion deal, but the specifics have yet to be laid out.
"If it’s level funding, we have to consider it a win," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-New Haven), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.
Also at risk? Rebates that offers customers $30 per month off their home internet service, and a $100 discount on equipment like laptops.
“These families have to choose between putting food on the table, paying the mortgage, and connecting to the internet,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut).
The clock is ticking. Congressional lawmakers only have weeks to avoid another government shutdown.
Hamden originally paid for the “Digital Ambassador” program with COVID relief funds. Now, the town must apply for grants each year to keep it going.
Moss hopes it stays.
“Normal life for an 87 year-old is quite different from the world of today. And I had to re-educate it,” she said. “I had to know what it was.”
YOU CAN WEIGH IN
Got ideas for improving technology access?
The state is taking comments on the draft Digital Equity Plan until Jan. 20. The federal government is expected to approve it by late March.
You can offer input several ways: