Opinion: Fiber revives CT as communications leader

A marker in the lobby of Frontier’s main building in New Haven, Conn., commemorating the city as the site of the world’s first commercial telephone exchange in 1878.

A marker in the lobby of Frontier’s main building in New Haven, Conn., commemorating the city as the site of the world’s first commercial telephone exchange in 1878.

Contributed photo

Like many Connecticut natives, when I was growing up in the Hartford area, I was vaguely aware of some special connection between my home state and the telephone. The connection did not involve Alexander Graham Bell, but it seemed nearly as fundamental and profound. Years later I went to work for Frontier Communications, parent company of Connecticut’s Southern New England Telephone Company (SNET), and learned the facts behind my earlier vague sense: New Haven was the site of the world’s first commercial telephone exchange in 1878 and, shortly thereafter, the world’s first telephone book. Connecticut had indeed led the way in the widespread public adoption of the telephone.

I also learned that Connecticut’s telecom history was not entirely positive. Unlike nearly all of the other operating companies that comprised the old Bell System, SNET had remained mostly independent from the old AT&T, making the company’s service territory in Connecticut something of a backwater that did not benefit from all of the latest innovations and technological upgrades. For this reason, in the 1980s, when the old AT&T came under legal pressure to divest its interest in the regional operating companies, SNET was the first operating company that it offered to divorce.

One adverse consequence of this history became evident in the late 1990s and early 2000s as Internet connectivity began displacing voice service as the leading telecom offering. While areas in surrounding states received ultra-fast fiber-to-the-home service (branded as FiOS by Verizon), Connecticut had to satisfy itself with a more complicated network architecture branded as U-Verse by the new AT&T. Based on an industry structure established many decades earlier, a residential customer in Fairfield County might receive lesser Internet speeds than those available to a corresponding customer living in nearby Westchester County, N.Y.

Viewed through the lens of this prior history, the newest chapter in Connecticut’s telecom story is truly exciting. Frontier has re-emerged from earlier financial problems as a brand new, fiber-first company (as captured by our new NASDAQ ticker symbol “FYBR” and our new company logo). As many state residents have noticed, literally hundreds of construction crews are currently performing work for Frontier, laying fiber cable and installing fiber facilities all around Connecticut. Already, thousands of Connecticut residents have signed up for fiber Internet service.

Why does fiber service matter? The average household in Frontier’s footprint has 22 connected devices, which has more than doubled over the last few years. This trend will continue as changes to the workplace are made permanent post-COVID, since more than half of employees prefer to continue working from home. More connected devices in the home and long-term changes in education, health care, and the workplace will drive household broadband consumption, which has increased six-fold since 2015.

In addition, fiber provides far greater environmental benefits than other broadband technologies:

  Less Energy — Fiber consumes many times less energy when transmitting data. It only needs power at the starting point and the ending point.

  More Weather-Resistant — Due to lower power demands, fiber is easier to keep up and running, providing better continuity of service in the face of severe weather.

  Sustainable Materials — Fiber is made from a more sustainable material. Cooper mining produced hazardous chemicals and toxic byproducts.

With fiber, Connecticut is reclaiming its position at the communications forefront, and opening a new chapter in its storied telecom history.

Mark Nielsen is a former Connecticut state senator and, currently serves as chief legal officer of Norwalk-based Frontier Communications Parent, Inc.