By David Brown
Several readers of my article exploring the various types of broadband Internet published in the Vermont Standard a couple of weeks ago, asked “If fiber is really the best way to get fast, reliable broadband to rural Vermonters, what can we do to get it installed here?” Good question!
If you’ve been following the efforts of various groups to attract federal stimulus funding for broadband projects, or you attended Bernie Sanders’ Broadband Town Meeting with Vermont Telephone Company last month, you could understandably be discouraged that Vermont might never emerge from the technological Dark Ages.
But wait – there is hope! Even though ECFiber (the consortium of 23 Vermont towns determined to build their own ultra-high speed fiber network) failed to attract desperately needed financing from the federal government and the state legislature, the group presses on – undaunted, in the finest Vermont tradition.
When the ECFiber delegates began their informal meetings to plan out a network that would reach every home and business in the member towns, we never imagined that, nearly 3 years later, we’d still be getting the project off the ground. But off the ground we are, and thanks to the tireless efforts of many volunteers, the project is gaining momentum.
It would have been terrific to get the $50million needed to build out all 35,000 telephone and electric poles with 1,500 miles of fiber optic cable. Along the way, we learned an important lesson. We noticed that government money went to existing telephone companies to expand existing networks rather than funding start-ups like ours. That’s when the ECFibernauts decided on a change in strategy: build a small network, get a few real customers, and deliver rock-solid ultra-fast Internet to them as a proof of concept – all using our own money. Then, when all the critical components are up and running, go to the commercial markets for funding needed to expand out to all 23 towns.
The ECFiber Governing Board and our technology partners ValleyNet, Inc. are fortunate to have several experienced financiers within our ranks. Working with our attorneys (to keep everything legal) ECFiber is reaching out to the community with a private offering of tax-exempt promissory notes. As of this writing, we have raised more than three-quarters of what is needed to complete Phase I of our project. The ECFiber hub is now under construction on Waterman Road in Royalton and an initial pole attachment application for 500 poles is being processed. Phase I will bring ECFiber service to selected businesses, schools, town facilities and residents in Bethel, Barnard, Stockbridge and Royalton.
Money we raise from this “Friends and Family” offering will allow us purchase more fiber and more poles – and connect more customers. It will also provide the funds we need as a loan guaranty for the commercial credit we believe we can secure. Our funding partner, Oppenheimer, is ready to take our prospectus to the public markets as soon as we give them the go-ahead. However, at this point it is critically important that we raise $800,000 to $1million to get Phase I done.
This takes us back to the original question: “If fiber is really the best way to get fast, reliable broadband to rural Vermonters, what can we do to get it installed here?” The answer is to support the funding of ECFiber. The more private money we can raise, the more ultra-high speed fiber we can install for area residents and businesses, and the more effectively we can leverage commercial lenders for the $50million needed to complete the entire project.
If you are a Vermont resident and would like more information about the ECFiber offering, please call 457-4377 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Brown is a member of the Woodstock Economic Development Commission and is Woodstock’s delegate to the ECFiber Governing Board.
By David Brown