In his budget address on February 10,  Gov. Ned Lamont announced his intent to expand broadband connectivity in Connecticut, an effort to be lauded.

Connecticut enjoys a significant competitive advantage for economic development in the Connecticut Education Network (CEN) “ … a 2,500 route mile, all optical, high-performance internet network.”

The density of CEN within Connecticut is impressively high.  Connecticut taxpayers funded its initial phase; the Obama administration then added millions for further expansion, inclusive of welcoming the private sector.  The impediments to leveraging this resource for economic growth are the `last mile’ connections (the distance from the network to a home or small business).

During COVID-19, Connecticut’s desirable living conditions have attracted online enterprise.  This is seen from surges in tax revenue from real estate conveyance taxes and income tax from people working at home (taxes which formerly went out of state).

Connecticut has great potential to develop a `Virtual STEAM Economy’ — uniting STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) and the Arts, with digital workers and students telecommuting across the globe.  The timing is perfect, with many businesses telling workers to stay home until at least June 2021.  Connecticut can emerge as a leader in sustaining this lifestyle change, of a thriving “digital cottage industry,” embedded in many homes.  This is well matched to Connecticut’s classic New England picture postcard setting and will reduce automotive pollution and congestion.

The state should consider cost sharing the expenses for the last mile connectivity to each home and small business to further catalyze these opportunities.  The resources are modest for each connection: a backhoe, local connectivity and site restoration; without that last mile, dense network has far less impact.  Connecticut would have a wonderful IT backbone with only limited access.

The nationally elite education profile of Connecticut (across public and private institutions, spanning primary grades to prep schools to universities) could be integrated with these nascent businesses to enable everything from digital theatres to molecular simulation to telemedicine – all from one’s home.  Moreover, properly implemented, this initiative would dramatically improve Connecticut’s economic competitiveness and growth trajectory as promises for an even brighter future.

Thomas J. Peters, Ph.D. of Mansfield is a Professor at the University of Connecticut and a leader in its local chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).  The ideas expressed here are his own and do not reflect any official stance of the University of Connecticut nor of the UConn AAUP.

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