Study tackles Northwest Connecticut’s poor cell reception, access to broadband
Notoriously poor cell phone reception and lack of broadband internet access in the rural towns of Northwest Connecticut will be studied thanks to a $200,000 state grant recently awarded to the Northwest Hills Council of Governments.
“I think that everybody now is interested in reliable cell service,” said Mark Lyon, Washington’s first selectman
Lyon estimates that only about 50 percent of Washington’s land is covered by cell service, even after the town added a cell tower — its second — last year.
“My phone is still worthless in some places,” Lyon said.
The grant application, which was put forward by COG and a year-old citizen advocacy group, NWCONNect, cites safety hazards posed by cellular “dead zones.”
“A man in Washington, CT, involved in a serious rollover car crash was suspended upside down and unable to call for help because there was no cell service,” the application said.
Connecting the region’s 20 small towns to better cell coverage and broadband access could also spur business and education possibilities for an area in desperate need, said NWCONNect acting Chairwoman Jessica Fowler, who is also a selectwoman in Sharon.
“The infrastructure we have in the area is woefully inadequate,” she said, adding that she thought that the lack of connectivity has prompted some people and businesses to leave the area.
The study will catalog dead zones and current available services, while also analyzing residential and business needs.
Meanwhile, Fowler said NWCONNect has been talking with broadband provider Frontier.
Although the talks are just preliminary, Frontier has quoted a buildout of broadband for the region that could be funded with a $20 monthly surcharge for homeowners for the five years after the infrastructure is built, and then a $5 to $10 monthly fee for the next six to 15 years, Fowler said.
That cost would just be for broadband and cellular infrastructure, and not for the service itself, Fowler said. And once a plan is on the table, each town would have to elect to sign up for it — and then each homeowner who subscribes would have to pay the surcharges.
Kent First Selectman Bruce Adams said he doubts Kent residents would want to pony up for a costly plan, but agrees that connectivity is a real problem in the area.
Some million-dollar homes near Macedonia Brook State Park in Kent don’t have access to cable TV and broadband, Adams said, adding that homeowners who spent that much money on a home expect to be connected.
“I think we’re getting close to figuring out a pathway for people to connect,” Fowler said, adding that she hopes that a plan will be available for towns to preview by early fall.