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  • Bristol’s “All Heart” Attitude is Closing the Digital Divide Across Connecticut

Taking its place as the southern boundary of New England, Connecticut is home to Yale University, beautiful towns, and the Connecticut River, the state’s namesake. Originally from the Mohegan-Pequot word “Quononoquett” meaning “long tidal river,” the Algonquian people who originally inhabited Connecticut knew the river’s power and importance, something that remains true today. 

Nutmeggers, as residents are known in the Nutmeg State, are proud of their state’s history. In December of 2020, they had another triumph to celebrate. In a socially distanced gymnasium due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Ned Lamont announced that Connecticut had closed the digital divide for every public student in the state. 

Through a variety of funding streams, the Connecticut Department of Education and partners provided a laptop computer and access to high-speed broadband for students in K-12. Before this intervention, approximately 40% of households in cities across Connecticut lacked access to high-speed broadband with residents in black, brown, and low-income communities being more likely to fall victim to the divide. 

Across the state, 99.25% of households have access to fixed broadband according to the Federal Communications Commission with 78.13% of households being able to access more than one provider. However, according to the US Census Bureau, only 90% of households have a home computer and only 85.5% adopt home broadband. With important help from the state and the federal government, communities are stepping up to close the final gaps in the digital divide. Local leaders are focused on ensuring that 100% of Connecticuters can access fast and affordable connectivity solutions. 

One of those communities is Bristol, a central Connecticut city that has been devoted to closing the digital divide for years through its fiber network and solutions that reflect the needs of community members. 

Within Connecticut and across New England, Bristol is known as the “all heart” community and their dedication to connecting students and vulnerable residents has brought that motto to life. While officials statewide have focused on connecting students, Bristol’s leaders set their sights on closing its homework gap and have worked to provide internet-enabled devices and WiFi hotspots to over 8,000 students. 

Students are not the only Bristol residents on the wrong side of the digital divide. Bristol’s Chief Information Officer, Scott Smith, and Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sussu have also dedicated time and resources to connecting seniors and other residents through their “Bristol All Heart Hotline.” Through this city program, residents can reach out to receive assistance on scheduling an online COVID-19 vaccine appointment, speak with an IT professional, or obtain digital literacy support. 

Bristol is just one of many communities working to not only close connectivity gaps today, but also develop strategic plans for years to come. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, local officials were working to garner support for a $100,000 broadband study. When the pandemic hit, their political opposition went silent as every resident saw that broadband was and is necessary. Mayor Zoppo-Sussu believes that “broadband…is more than the network, it’s who we can be in the future.” 

Looking past the COVID-19 pandemic, Bristol is preparing to launch broadband projects to support small businesses, public safety, and parks and recreation. Mayor Zoppo-Sussu is proud of Connecticut’s entrepreneurial spirit and says that officials ranging from the Governor’s office to local governments are leading the charge to think big on their way to a better future with broadband.