We recently learned that a group of communities in central Vermont had decided to ask voters if they should form a communications union district to develop a regional fiber optic network. On March 6th, twelve of thirteen communities who took up the proposal at Town Meeting passed it, and the thirteenth will address the subject in May.
Clearly A Demand
We reached out to Jeremy Hansen, a Board Member in Berlin and the person who’s spearheading the effort to improve connectivity in the region. He told us:
I'm humbled and encouraged by the outpouring of support for this effort here in Central Vermont. There is clearly a demand for an Internet Service Provider that we, as a community, are about to start building. Two more towns outside of those that had it on their Town Meeting agenda (Elmore and Moretown) discussed CVI today, too, and they both look poised to apply to join us once we have our first board meeting.
Communities that passed the measure are Barre City, Berlin, Calais, East Montpelier, Marshfield, Middlesex, Montpelier, Northfield, Plainfield, Roxbury, Williamstown, and Worcester. In Berlin, East Montpelier, Middlesex, and Worcester the community took up the question with a floor vote and it passed unanimously. The town of Barre will bring up the question at its Town Meeting in May.
Looking East For Inspiration
As an elected official, Hansen has heard many complaints from constituents about poor Internet access and inadequate customer service from ISPs in his town of Berlin. As he's researched the problem, he's found that other communities in the region have faced the same problems.
When looking for solutions, Hansen learned about ECFiber, which serves 24 member towns to the east. The publicly owned fiber optic network is organized as a communications union district, a relatively new designation in Vermont that is similar to water or sewer districts. ECFiber is publicly owned infrastructure developed by multiple communities, which allows them to issue revenue bonds to fund a telecommunications project.
Over the past year, Hansen has approached towns in the region and asked community leaders to consider bringing membership in the communications union district to voters. Based on results from yesterday’s vote, people in the area are ready for better Internet access. Comcast and Consolidated Communications (formerly Fairpoint) operate in the region.
What’s Next For CVI Member Towns?
Now that towns have decided to participate in the communications union district, each town will need to select a representative to belong to the governing board. Hansen has said he hopes to begin construction by 2020 and that the district will likely next seek out a company for a feasibility study and a develop a business plan.
Now the hard work begins as we work together to provide reasonably-priced, high-quality, community-owned, ultra high-speed Internet access to all homes, businesses, and civic institutions in our member towns!
Congrats and best wishes to these central Vermont communities who are beginning this journey of local self-reliance!
The image of the bridge in Berlin, Vermont, by Magicpiano (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.