Pulcer: Vermont’s broadband infrastructure rating drops to 50th in the nation

Editor’s note: This op-ed is by Ron Pulcer of Rutland Town.

Vermont is fortunate to have six qualified major party candidates running for governor. Earlier this month, I still could not decide. So, I ended up doing what I did on a Sunday evening way back in October 2002.

At that point, I did not know much about Jim Douglas, Doug Racine and Con Hogan. I looked forward to attending the debate at the Paramount Theatre. About 5 minutes before I was ready to leave home, a customer paged me. It was my weekend for on-call duty. After 90 minutes of remotely working on the customer’s computer system, it was too late to head to the debate.

So I sat down and wrote an email to Mr. Douglas, Mr. Racine and Mr. Hogan. I asked several questions. One was about broadband infrastructure (I still had dial-up in 2002). I also asked about roads as I was (and still am) commuting 80 miles roundtrip to my job. I also asked about IT jobs for younger workers, since my prior employer had been hiring foreign H1-B workers and not young Vermonters.

I thought I would eventually get at least a short reply from campaign volunteers. Of the three candidates, only Con Hogan responded directly to my e-mail (within 48 hours). I never heard back from the other two candidates. Here is some of what Con Hogan wrote back to me in 2002:

“… the need to have a high speed Internet access throughout the state. It is truly the pathway for future economic development. I don’t know if you know it, but we are ranked 48th in the nation on the capacity. That is disgraceful and unacceptable. And, this is something that if we apply ourselves to, we can make rapid progress on and could have an excellent impact on our overall economy and the jobs that we both feel are so important.”

Obviously, I voted for Con Hogan in 2002.

For all the talk from Douglas and Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie about their E-State initiative, now in 2010, Vermont is ranked 50th in broadband access.

In early August, I wrote an e-mail to the Democratic candidates and also Brian Dubie about the “buy local” concept and state support for Vermont businesses. I mentioned how my employer sells its educational and research online subscription products in most of the 50 states, but that ironically we sell very little here in Vermont, even though most of our non-sales employees work in Vermont.

Over the course of three weeks, I received responses from three of the six candidates for governor. Within 24 hours, Susan Bartlett replied back. Her first response was partly a question back to me. I realized she was asking for some clarification, so that she could address the question better. Ms. Bartlett is timely in her responses and a good listener (even via e-mail). She also proved to be more fiscally conservative than even Brian Dubie, since without the same campaign funding and staff, she actually was more responsive while using less money.

Within 3 days, I got a direct email reply from Deb Markowitz. She acknowledged the situation I described, and also put her reply in general terms for supporting other types of businesses in Vermont, as well as bending the cost curve of education via consolidation of administration. She also gave a web link to her JumpStartVT economic plan. Ms. Markowitz has said on that campaign trail that she will be responsive, and her reply demonstrated that.

As Matt Dunne touts broadband and Internet jobs, I was not surprised that his Web site sent me an immediate automated e-mail reply. Almost three weeks passed, and on Saturday night when I was out grocery shopping, I got an 8:30 p.m. voice mail at home from Mr. Dunne. He mentioned his economic plan, in case I was not able to call him back (I read his plan the next day). I did call him just after 9 p.m.. Google Phone answered my phone call, and I left a message. About 5 minutes later, a campaign volunteer called and said that she would try to connect me to Mr. Dunne who was driving on some Vermont road. After a few seconds, I was connected. I acknowledged that I knew he was on the road. After about 2 minutes, the phone connection was lost, I assume due to poor or non-existent cell phone coverage, like I experience daily on my commute.

Imagine the next Governor of Vermont, whoever he or she may be, not being able to contact a businessperson, state worker or legislator about an important issue or crisis. While Vermont Yankee is leaking again, “Can you hear me now?”

While I have appreciated the work of Sen. Racine and Sen. Shumlin on healthcare reform, I was disappointed that I did not hear back from their campaigns. I also did not get a reply from Lt. Gov Brian Dubie or his campaign.

The five Democratic candidates agree on many issues. But Matt Dunne really gets what Con Hogan understood back in 2002 about broadband infrastructure. As an old-fogey in the Info Tech field since 1977, I think Matt Dunne is the candidate who can really significantly improve broadband access in Vermont. For many years, I have been concerned about the lack of IT jobs for young Vermonters, especially outside of Chittenden County. As an IT worker, I think that Mr. Dunne is one candidate best suited to help bring back the Vermont diaspora of young people to work and help rebuild Vermont’s future.

Ron Pulcer
Rutland Town, VT
August 22, 2010

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