By Virginia Dean, Standard Correspondent
BROWNSVILLE — An ECFiber informational meeting brought out about 20 residents Tuesday night at the Town Hall to mull over a proposal to borrow $135,000 to pay for high speed fiber optic service to municipal buildings in the community.
A warned town meeting to vote on the issue is set for this Friday, May 31.
Audience members listened quietly and intently as Leslie and Tim Nulty, project coordinator and manager at ValleyNet; Ken Parrot (delegate to West Windsor to the ECFiber Governing Board); and Select Board Chair Glenn Seward presented their arguments to have the town install a trunk line from the center of Reading to the municipal buildings, including the town hall, fire department, municipal garage and the library.
ValleyNet is the construction and operating contractor to ECFiber. Both are located in South Royalton.
That network will be designed to have extra fiber available so that ECFiber is able to provide service to residents, Leslie said. The plan is to have ECFiber lease payments to the town which will offset the town’s cost of borrowing to build that line that connects to municipal facilities.
A companion proposal on the table Tuesday night was to build extensions off that line funded by ECFiber grassroots local investors’ financing. That route would be owned by ECFiber.
“I’m 150 percent in favor of building the initial Yellow Brick Road,” said one resident pointing to an overhead ECFiber chart, “but I do have reservations about extending out from there with those blue lines.”
The majority of attendants, however, stressed their desire for more lines. The first stage would run along Route 106 from Reading down Route 44 to Brownsville.
To finance the purchase of the initial line, town officials have proposed a 10-year bank loan and, even though the town would experience a deficit during the term of the loan, the full amount would be recouped from lease payments collected from ECFiber over a 20-year lease term, Seward said.
The town would purchase the line and lease it to ECFiber under a 20-year-contract that would require ECFiber to be fully responsible for operation and maintenance.
“This is about us working together as a group for the betterment of Brownsville,” said another attendant. “Let’s not quibble about how it will get done but leave that to the experts. I’m in favor of it. If it doesn’t happen now, when will it?”
Once the trunk is installed, Tim Nulty said, residents and businesses will want to subscribe to the high speed fiber optic service, and that the additional amount of $150,000 needed to extend the line to most of the town could be raised privately.
The town has raised $115,000 of that projected amount so far.
“We need to get investors,” said another resident. “I feel strongly that the Australian ballot is the key and then we should work on seeking investors.”
Project Manager Leslie Nulty told audience members that one of the goals of EC Fiber is to cover the customers in town who are least served with the shortest and most inexpensive network.
“EC Fiber’s motto is ‘We Go Where They Ain’t,’” Leslie said. “There are many variables to setting up our service including population density, service, and clear pole runs, for example. We have to put them all together and then come up with the initial routes that will drive revenue into the system and thus allow us to build additional routes in the future.”
Because ECFiber is not given government grants, it is imperative to build a technologically and financially strong institution, Leslie said.
“There is a financial sustainability element to this,” she said.
Profits get plowed back into extending the network and, after that, any surpluses get distributed back to the towns, Leslie explained. Any operating expenses are paid out of subscriber fees or revenues.
Leslie said that towns do not need to be wealthy to incorporate the high speed fiber optic service. Routes can also be configured according to the needs of a town.
“Vershire, Chelsea, and Sharon are not high income towns but their neighbors got together, talked and somehow managed to find the means,” Leslie said. “It’s not simply going to the deepest pockets in town. EC Fiber investors are middle-class, average investors.”
The small but overwhelming support Tuesday night seemed to confirm Leslie’s vision of ECFiber being incorporated into area towns.
“We were feeling quite optimistic,” she said. “It’s always a challenge, but so far we’ve raised $3.5 million, and we feel good about that.”