(This story was first published in the May 30, 2013 edition of the Vermont Standard.)
By Katy Savage, Standard Correspondent
Woodstock residents eager for ECFiber will have to wait longer than anticipated as the company navigates Woodstock’s underground cabling.
Before detailed cost estimates, the telecommunications company sought a route to Woodstock via Route 12 from Pomfret. They have since learned it would cost $60,000 to bury utilities on the 1,800-foot strip near Billings Farm and Museum. The usual cost to build is $25,000 per mile.
“Woodstock has a special combination of challenges that it shares with Montpelier and Hartford,” Leslie Nulty, ValleyNet project coordinator said. “It requires underground burial. That more than doubles the costs.”
Merely getting to Woodstock is also costly for ECFiber — though the costs to build in Woodstock may change if West Windsor or Pomfret reach fundraising goals. To date, “little money” has been raised in Pomfret, John Roy, ECFiber treasurer said. West Windsor is to vote May 31 on a proposal to borrow $135,000 to bring fiber optic service in its municipal buildings. Roy is optimistic that more money will be raised before the July 1 fundraising deadline. David Brown, Woodstock ECFiber delegate, indicated on a listserv that if more money was not raised by May 1, ECFiber would abandon Woodstock. “We were distressed and disturbed by the last message David Brown put on the listserv,” ECFiber chairman Irv Thomae said at a recent Woodstock Select Board meeting. “That is not our position.”
Brown announced his resignation from ECFiber last week. He declined to comment.
Woodstock has about 2.5 miles of underground utilities in its center. As some investors have learned of the challenges, they have asked for their money back. The net amount raised in Woodstock is down to $85,000, Roy said.
“Some of the investment raised last December (for Woodstock) was withdrawn by a major investor…the feeling was not enough progress had been made,” said Roy.
ECFiber has raised more than $3.5 million so far in the region. About 300 people have bought promissory notes from the company in multiples of $2,500. ECFiber says it will return money to investors after it makes a profit.
Thomae said the principle priority of ECFiber is to go where other service providers don’t. He said Woodstock is challenging because those without Comcast service in the town are sporadic and non-continuous.
Most of Woodstock, if not all, is covered by Fairpoint Communications. According to Jeff Nevins, a Fairpoint spokesman, Fairpoint provides Internet and phone service to every resident in the 457 Vermont phone exchange. A study done in June 2012 from the Vermont Telecommunications Authority confirmed every resident in Woodstock has access to Internet, one way or the other.
“It has been my experience time to time that there is service available but the residents are not aware of it,” said Caro Thompson, a spokeswoman
Woodstock’s Internet Options
Internet is available to virtually everyone in the town of Woodstock. Here are the options, with speeds, according to the Vermont Telecommunications Authority: Comcast, 10-25 Mbps, Cable modem Sovernet Communications, 6 to 10 Mbps. DSL AT&T, 3-6 Mbps, DSL Fairpoint, 10 Mbps to 25 Mbps, DSL AT&T Mobility, 1.5 to 3 Mbps, mobile wireless Verizon Wireless, 768 kbps to 1.5 mbps, mobile wireless Hughes Network Systems LLC, 1.5 to 3 Mbps, satellite Starband, 1.5 to 3 Mbps, satellite Wildblue Communications, 1.5 to 3 Mbps, satellite from VTA, in an email.
If ECFiber were to build in Woodstock, competition would be inevitable. ECFiber is more expensive than competitors. The fastest fiber optic service ECFiber offers, 20 mbps, is “at least equal” to Comcast, Thomae said.
ECFiber costs subscribers $144 per month for the highest Internet speed and phone available. Fairpoint’s phone and Internet is $55.99 per month. Comcast offers Internet, phone and television for $99 a month for the first year.
Thomae said as the company gets more money, ECFiber’s Internet speed will grow faster. Fiber is unique in that it provides the same download and upload speeds.
George Sadowsky, an international Internet expert and Woodstock resident, formed a group out of the “general frustration that we weren’t going forward in connecting people to the Internet,” he said.
Sadowsky said he wasn’t sure what the best Internet alternative is for Woodstock.
“That’s one of the concerns I have,” Sadowsky said. “We’re fairly ignorant about exactly what the base is, who’s got what and who doesn’t have anything. We have to understand that to understand what the easiest way is to deal with it.”
ECFiber has had challenges since the company began. In 2008, they sought fundraising through an initial public offering with Lehman Brothers. The same week the deal was confirmed, the financial market collapsed. ECFiber tried to obtain funds from a federal stimulus program but was defeated by VTel.
Roy expects if ECFiber connects people at the rate it is now, it will be 10 years before all 23 municipalities are connected. Roy hopes to attract investment banks to speed the “grassroots(y)” fundraising process.
Chelsea, Thetford, Norwich, Strafford and Sharon will be connected by the end of the year, according to ECFiber officials.
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