Marshall, the Shumlin administration’s broadband “czar,” takes job with VTel

Karen Marshall, who spearheaded Gov. Peter Shumlin’s universal broadband expansion efforts, has taken a job with one of the telecommunications companies she was charged with overseeing.

Marshall will be the new president of VTel Data Network.

Michel Guité, chairman of VTel, said in a statement that Marshall has “a unique set of leadership skills to enhance the capacity of our team.”

Karen Marshall, chief of ConnectVT. VTD Photo/Taylor Dobbs

Karen Marshall, chief of ConnectVT. VTD Photo/Taylor Dobbs

The company, based in Springfield, received $116 million in federal stimulus grants in 2011 for broadband expansion in rural, underserved areas of the state.

“VTel is working very hard to build and deliver world class voice, video, wired and wireless data services within very demanding time commitments to federal and state partners,” Guité said. “Karen’s international experience in Canada and the United States make her a tremendous asset to lead development of our multi-state Canada-U.S. fiber network, and to help meet our overall build requirements.”

VTel is an independent telephone company with an optical fiber network in Vermont with connections to New York City, Boston and Montreal.

Marshall has had a long career in the private sector. She is a former executive for Clear Channel Radio, and at one time, she worked as an advertising executive for Comcast, a cable company that offers broadband service. Before joining the Shumlin administration, Marshall worked as a consultant. She also served briefly as the head of SecureShred, the document destruction company. She made $115,000 a year as chief of ConnectVT.

Her job was to ensure that Shumlin’s campaign pledge to extend universal broadband access to “every last mile” by 2013 is on track. In at least four press conferences over the last two years, the Shumlin administration has taken pains to reassure the public that VTel is moving ahead with the expansion.

Shumlin launched ConnectVT, shortly after he took office, and Marshall was the standalone entity’s sole employee. She had no budget per se and no employees to manage. Her office was on the Fifth Floor of the Pavilion building, where the governor’s closest advisors work.

In an interview, Marshall described her job as “master facilitator.” But the one-woman arm of state government also served as a gadfly-style enforcer: Her job has been to ensure that state and federal agencies, private companies and Vermont municipalities work together to meet the governor’s 2013 deadline.

The VTel project is key to that effort. No other company has received as much federal funding. ECFiber, a fiber-optic company, Burlington Telecomm and FairPoint are also expanding broadband in the state.

ConnectVT is widely viewed as Shumlin’s alternative to the Vermont Telecommunications Authority, which had been dominated by former Gov. Jim Douglas appointees, only two of which remain on the board. After four years of state funding, the authority failed to make much progress on broadband expansion, in part because of corporate disinterest in investing in expensive rural broadband development. It’s only been in the last few years that private companies were awarded enough federal funding to make extending broadband access to very rural parts of the state financially viable.

Marshall is the second Shumlin official this week to take a job in private industry. Alex MacLean, the governor’s chief of staff, is now working for Bill Stenger, the mastermind behind the enormous Northeast Kingdom economic expansion project funded with EB-5 visa program.

Correction: The VTA board is now comprised mostly of Shumlin appointees.

Anne Galloway

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