State regulators say universal broadband is within reach

Chris Campbell. VTD/Taylor Dobbs

Chris Campbell. VTD/Taylor Dobbs

Broadband projects for all but 200 places in Vermont have been set in motion, bringing the state much closer to the governor’s goal of bringing universal broadband to “every last mile” by the end of this year.

The Vermont Telecommunications Authority is 14 roads closer to making sure every address in Vermont has an option for broadband Internet connection, thanks to a new set of grant rounds.

That’s not to say everyone else in the state enjoys a high-speed connection by today’s standards, or that those 200 are the only places left without service. It’s not even to say that all those addresses will actually be connected by Dec. 31.

They’re simply the last known spots missing from anyone else’s plans — whether federally funded initiatives or service provider’s own business strategies — to build broadband infrastructure to reach them. VTA’s mission is to fill that gap, said broadband outreach coordinator Caro Thompson.

“It could take an investment of hundreds of thousands of dollars to get (broadband) to two houses,” Thompson said. “A provider is never going to get a return on that type of investment.”

To make it worthwhile for companies to extend service to those hard-to-reach areas, VTA subsidizes some of the capital costs of building new broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved locations.

The latest grant cycle awarded $295,750 to FairPoint Communications and $135,804 to Southern Vermont Cable Company — funding that must be matched to some degree by the companies. Roads in Bennington, Brattleboro, Newfane, Putney and Wilmington are on the project maps. (See below for a more complete list.) FairPoint hopes to complete this set of projects by June, while Southern Vermont Cable may finish before the end of the year.

Two more grant applications, from ECFiber and National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative, are still under review. A set of grants in 2012 to four service providers subsidized new infrastructure for 545 locations and 52 towns, for about $2.3 million.

The VTA, created by the Legislature in 2007, used capital appropriations to pay for the grants. The agency redistributes funding from a variety of sources to support its mission — building a complete, current and affordable telecom infrastructure in Vermont for both residences and businesses.

During Gov. Peter Shumlin’s 2010 campaign, he pledged to usher in universal broadband by the end of 2013. VTA executive director Chris Campbell is “cautiously optimistic” that they’ll at least have broadband solutions proposed for all remaining addresses by the end of this year.

Need for speed

All projects funded by the grants must meet a minimum combined speed of 5 Megabits per second (Mbps) — typically about 4 Mbps for download and roughly 1 Mbps for upload.

But speed is relative.

Three or four years ago, 5 Mpbs was really fast, said Jessamyn West, a Vermont-based library technologist and nationally touring speaker on bridging the digital divide. These days, she finds 5 Mbps “more or less normal” and often sufficient, depending on who’s using the Internet in any one location.

The Federal Communications Commission’s Household Broadband Guide classifies 5 Mbps as somewhere between “basic” (1 to 2 Mbps) and “medium” (6 to 15 Mbps). “Advanced” would be anything higher.

A couple at home using email or surfing the web, and streaming one high-definition video? Basic. A family of four, each with laptops and smartphones turned on, Skyping with grandma and playing online video games? Advanced.

The direction of Internet use is driving demand higher and higher even for single users, West says.

“As more and more is in the cloud — music, movies, and devices syncing with the cloud all the time — that cloud-enabled lifestyle is going to be hampered by that (5 Mbps speed) over time,” she said.

Hampered, that is, if everyone really needs to connect. West compares Internet speed to water service. “In some houses, you can’t have four people taking a shower at the same time,” she said.

Although, West admits, translating that to Internet speed for five college students sharing an off-campus apartment might be a hard sell.

VTA’s Thompson acknowledges that not everyone has equal access to Internet speed in Vermont, and 5 Mbps might not sound like a lot to some. But for people currently living or working in an underserved area, it can make the world of difference.

“What we have to do is get the basic service to everybody first. That has to be the highest priority,” Thompson said. “Because if you’re on dialup, it’s almost impossible to run a business. It’s just not adequate in any way shape or form.”

New service areas

The Fairpoint award will bring DSL service to at least some, if not all, addresses on the following roads: In Bennington, locations on Mount Anthony Road are part of the project. In Brattleboro, addresses on Abbott, Akley, Gateway Farm Lane, and Melchen Roads are included. In Wilmington, Boonesboro Drive, Bossert Road, Haynes Road, Kirby Drive, Old Ark Road and Tessahok Lane will be part of the expansion project.

Southern Vermont Cable will be extending service in Newfane along all or portions of Newfane Hill Road and will reach onto Grout Road. In Putney, new service will be available on East Putney Ferry Road.

Check your service

Internet speed can vary from advertised rates — or from previous recorded rates — depending on the number of devices you may have running at one time, the leaf cover on the trees around your house, or the distance you are from a remote terminal, among other factors.

The website www.BroadbandVT.org offers a free and anonymous online service to check your Internet speed. You’ll need to know your street address, but you don’t necessarily need to know your Internet service provider. It just takes a minute to watch a gauge measure your upload and download speeds, and you’ll also get a graphical comparison of how yours compares to averages in the rest of Vermont and neighboring states.

Report an unserved area

The public can help the state verify its service maps by reporting unserved addresses. Visit www.BroadbandVT.org to register your location if you don’t have access to broadband Internet. Satellite or mobile cell phone access to the Internet does not qualify as broadband service at an address — so if that’s all you have, then go online to register your location.

CORRECTION: This headline and first sentence were corrected to indicate that broadband planning for all but 200 addresses is under way.

BroadbandService(06302012)

Hilary Niles

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21 Comments on "State regulators say universal broadband is within reach"

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Janice Prindle
2 years 10 months ago
So what about those of us who supposedly have it, but don’t really? In South Woodstock I am supposedly served high speed access by Fairpoint, for over $90 a month. The speed test at Broadband VT shows that my download is 2.5 Mbps and my upload is .42. Basic. There is no fiber optic coming to the house, or even on my road, that’s for sure. I am frustrated that all the emphasis is on supposedly expanding access on a map, with apparently no serious attention paid to verifying that the public funds for this are going to companies that… Read more »
Bob Orleck
2 years 10 months ago
Quote from the article: “During Gov. Peter Shumlin’s 2010 campaign, he pledged to usher in universal broadband by the end of 2013.” Another quote: “Vermont is now within fewer than 200 addresses from the governor’s universal broadband goal.” Another: “That’s not to say … those 200 are the only places left without service. It’s not even to say that all those addresses will actually be connected by Dec. 31.” Then this one: “… that they’ll at least have broadband solutions proposed for all remaining addresses by the end of this year.” Sounds like a bunch of double talk to me.… Read more »
Kathy Leonard
2 years 10 months ago

Lest your forget…

April 7, 2010 — “Three years ago, Vermont’s Republican governor Jim Douglas announced the state would achieve 100 percent broadband coverage by 2010, making Vermont the nation’s first “e-State.”

Bob Orleck
2 years 9 months ago
Kathy: I don’t know where you got that April 7, 2010 date or who you are quoting but you seem to have forgotten some things yourself. It was in 2007 when Governor Douglas set the goal. The global financial meltdown came in 2008 followed by recession. The banks stopped lending which threw a kink into the financing. You forgot the sale of Verizon to Fairpoint in 2008 that drug on into 2009 and then Fairpoint filing for bankruptcy. You seem to have easily overlooked that Lehman Brothers collapsed along with financing plans and Senator Leahy’s inability to get federal loan… Read more »
Janice Prindle
2 years 9 months ago
Bob, Even though I agree with you about what a sham this announcement is, I find your gratuitous comment about liberals offensive. I am a liberal, and I am well able to criticize both governors for dropping the ball, and so are my many liberal friends who are equally frustrated with our lack of access to true high speed internet (especially when some of us are paying for it, but not getting it). Ultimately this is not about being liberal or conservative, any more than wanting to have good roads and other public utilities, not to mention good government, is… Read more »
Bob Orleck
2 years 9 months ago
Janice: I probably do owe you an apology but I did say what I did with good reason. Maybe I should have said “most liberals” or “misled liberals” for it seems clear to me that the most outrageous, costly, non-productive projects that make current situations worse rather than better come from liberal democrats who think more government is better, no matter how many times over and over and over they fail to make much of anything better. They just keep spending taxpayer money as if it was their personal political war chest to enable them to gain constituents who are… Read more »
Kathy Leonard
2 years 9 months ago

“…something that all liberals seem to be able to do for the sake of “the cause”.

Bob, your stereotype preclude further response from me and imo mirrors stereotypes currently shutting down our national dialog — not useful. You appear to have conservative answers for everything but most people understand that the answers need to come from all of us as individuals, not as caricatures put in boxes.

Bob Orleck
2 years 9 months ago

Kathy: I can only TILII and just because IYO the moon is made of green cheese don’t make it so. You opinion is baseless and IMHO most political liberals are the mulish intolerant stereotypers especially in Washington, DC where dictatorial tyranny from the left is rampant and where even government agencies are being used as their lackeys to hurt and destroy opponents.

Kathy Leonard
2 years 9 months ago

Bob Orleck: Your over-caffeinated posts remind me of the climate that we endured in Randolph when you made your bid for Selectboard in 2012. People won’t be convinced of ideas if you just lump invective on them, as the results clearly showed.

“Green cheese/mulish/intolerant/dictatorial tyranny/rampant/lackeys….

these aren’t words you want to use when you want people to listen to you, so maybe you just need to rant.

Bob Orleck
2 years 9 months ago
Hey Kathy: How would you define what your post was? Does it qualify as a rant? I drink decaf, what are you on? Anyway, kind of think I did pretty well in a town controlled by special interests if I do say so myself. Had 500 people who agreed with me anyway! No matter, though, my loss allowed me the time to address liberal hypocrites where I find them. I don’t know how old you are but I remember when all Democrats it seemed really cared about their country and did not do things to damage it. I think maybe… Read more »
2 years 10 months ago

Really? Working on a feature film with John O’brien – he’s in Tunbridge. This is news to him. For him ‘broadband’ means driving to Hanover.

In reality we are years away from being an ‘e-state’. Burlington Telecom as our never center is our best hope to be a plugged in state, but bad info and fear have doomed us to the digital hinterlands.

David Dempsey
2 years 9 months ago
“Universal broadband is within 200 addresses of completion.” What a crock. The headline should have said that Vermont is within 200 addresses of having a plan in place to provide woefully slow technologically ancient broadband access sometime in the future. Using the word “completion” is sleazy even for the master of sleaze, Shumlin and his cronies. A lot of taxpayer money has been wasted on outdated technology. Companies like EC Fiber, who is in the process of providing state of the art fiber optic broadband to many central Vermont towns, are doing things that will provide the best broadband services… Read more »
Annette Smith
2 years 9 months ago
I must know all 200 of those people who are still on slow dial-up, who seem to have no hope of getting even one service provider. Meanwhile, in Rutland County some of us had DSL before Rutland City, yet we are now getting an upgrade to high speed fiber optic, PLUS a build-out of a wireless network to serve the same area. A few years ago Comcast was also required to build out in our area. So while some parts of the state are getting multiple redundancy, other areas seem to be neglected. And this fiber optic build-out is not… Read more »
2 years 9 months ago

I sort of feel that this is like being engaged to be engaged. I’d love to get some real data about when the last folks in Vermont will have affordable broadband available to them, to use. “200 places” makes good sound bytes, but mostly because people misinterpret it. In reality having a state in 2013 that still has places–and not just “up a mountain in your hermit cave” places but real places in real towns–is shameful. And hermits deserve broadband too, anyhow.

Lee Stirling
2 years 9 months ago
The cost to get this broadband coverage to the final 5% of VT will be much higher than it was to the first 5% and everyone, no matter where you live will end up paying more so that these few areas can say they have broadband internet (up-front costs, more points that require maintenance, etc.). Why is it that all areas of VT need broadband internet anyway? Not all corners of VT are the same. More remote areas are not the same as a city like Burlington or Montpelier or Rutland. Can’t the lack of broadband simply be regarded as… Read more »
Janice Prindle
2 years 9 months ago

Broadband, whether we know it or not, is important to every Vermonter who wants our state to stay green and peaceful, but still affordable for ordinary people — and our children. Especially in remote areas, where people are desperate for good jobs! And our young people are leaving for the same reason. Vermont’s leaders of both parties have long said that our future lies in supplementing a tourism-based, service economy, with mostly seasonal, lower-paying jobs, with “clean” industry (technology, not manufacturing). That requires broadband — everywhere.

Moshe Braner
2 years 9 months ago

So “seasonal, lower-paying jobs” is something to look forward to?

Janice Prindle
2 years 9 months ago
You didn’t read what I wrote. I said true universal broadband would allow us to develop clean industry to SUPPLEMENT our existing service economy (with its seasonal low-paying jobs). Vermont’s reliance on tourism and our failure to develop new opportunities is one reason why our young people leave the state — and we need them, and their tax dollars. That is why it is short-sighted to suggest we don’t need it available everywhere in the state. Today, it’s a necessary public utility, same as good roads, electricity, etc. And incidentally, the people whose access you’d rather not “subsidize” have already,… Read more »
Lee Stirling
2 years 9 months ago

I think you’ve got a point about who’s paying to subsidize broadband Janice. If state tax $$ helped subsidize my broadband, then some dollars from someone who doesn’t yet have it helped pay for what I do have. We do this already iin education where taxpayers who may not even have kids are contributing to the education of someone else’s children. I won’t even get into the vast differences in cost per child depending on which, if any, needed “supports” are called for.

Moshe Braner
2 years 9 months ago
Good questions, Lee. Should we also subsidize gasoline for those who live in “the boonies” but commute to jobs in far-away urban spots? That lifestyle is becoming less and less viable as we’ve run out of cheap oil globally. Where one lives is a choice, and has consequences. (See also the VTDigger article on the state struggling to reimburse for mileage at today’s realistic costs.) Now why is it that landline subscribers are heavily taxed, in part to fund various subsidy schemes, but cellphone subscribers escape such taxation? The more people drop the landline, the more such burden remains on… Read more »
Jack Love
2 years 8 months ago

Londonderry is maxxed out. We’ve been trying to get FP DSL service for over a year and are always told that there are no more lines available in the central office.

A neighbor happened to call during that interval and managed to get new service on his first try. I called after that and FP was maxxed out again.

So much for the 21st Century!

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