By David Brown
ECFiber Governing Board
Some may argue that the Vermont Telecommunications Authority (VTA) hasn’t accomplished much of its mission since being created back in 2007. A huge fly landed in the ointment last August when the US Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) awarded Vermont Telephone Co. (VTel) upwards of $116million to deploy wireless broadband service all across the state.
The RUS award was great news to VTel shareholders, but it stopped dead in its tracks any plans the VTA may have had to help other organizations bring high speed internet service to rural Vermont. The Vermont legislature passed a bill with language that prohibits the VTA from funding telecom development in any area where another entity has a “legally binding commitment” to make telecom investments. That includes VTel’s award and Fairpoint’s DSL build-out commitments. The language effectively poisoned the waters for anyone else seeking VTA funding, including ECFiber’s efforts to bring ultra high speed Internet to 23 area towns.
In last-minute discussions between VTA and ECFiber, an intriguing idea developed which might allow the VTA to use its Backroads Broadband Program to release up to $4.7 million of available grant money to ECFiber for the deployment of a “middle-mile” fiber optic network as well as to build out and connect customers in certain areas of ECFiber towns that will remain unserved even if VTel and Fairpoint fulfill their current commitments. If the award were made, ECFiber could forge ahead with the construction of fiber optic trunks and associated distribution equipment throughout its territory. This would allow ECFiber to take a huge leap towards its ultimate goal of connecting every area resident, institution, and business.
The VTA’s website states “The objective of the Backroads Broadband Program is to bring Vermont closer to 100% broadband availability by providing incentives for new service in the most unserved areas of the state. The VTA seeks to invest in broadband infrastructure or contract with retail providers for the purpose of making services available to at least 10,000 households and businesses in Target Communities where broadband services are currently unavailable or upgrade current broadband services in underserved business districts by the end of 2012.”
But the clock is ticking on the availability of the VTA money and it might very well disappear completely at the end of next month. With the state facing a $100 million budget shortfall, ECFiber isn’t counting on any financial assistance being available next year. So, if a deal is in the offing, it is do or die to get it done soon.
As we understand it, the VTA’s Broadband Grants Committee will be reviewing ECFiber’s grant application in a couple of weeks and the award could be made by mid-December.
This is why we are asking the residents of Barnard, Bethel, Brookfield, Chelsea, Granville, Hancock, Hartford, Montpelier, Norwich, Pomfret, Pittsfield, Randolph, Reading, Rochester, Royalton, Sharon, Stockbridge, Strafford, Thetford, Tunbridge, Vershire, West Windsor, and Woodstock to write to Chris Campbell, VTA Executive Director, to express their support for ECFiber’s application to the VTA Backroads Broadband program.
Here are some ideas you might briefly mention in your letter of support:
â€¢ Explain who you are and what you do
â€¢ Explain why you need broadband and how important it is to you personally and/or professionally
â€¢ Explain that ECFiber is the only provider committed to serving every area resident, institution and business
â€¢ Explain that the VTA grant will help ECFiber fulfill this commitment to 100% service Write to:
Chris Campbell, Executive Director Vermont Telecommunications Authority One National Life Drive Montpelier, VT 05620-3205
Or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Governor-elect Peter Shumlin is a supporter of ECFiber, but it wouldn’t hurt to copy him with your email to:
Please encourage your Senators and Representatives to contact Chris Campbell at the VTA to directly express their support for the ECFiber broadband project. Finally, if you are a Vermont resident and would like more information about the ECFiber offering of tax- exempt promissory notes, please call 457-4377 or email email@example.com.
David Brown is a member of the Woodstock Economic Development Commission and is Woodstock’s delegate to the ECFiber Governing Board.
By David Brown