Vermont's proposed East Central Fiber Network is moving forward, confident that the strength of their application for federal broadband stimulus funding will get them an award. Atlantic Engineering has been surveying pole and prepping so they can get started as soon as possible.
They are also offering network-branded apparel - it reads: ECFiber.Net Community owned Fiber-Optic network. I think this is pretty fricking cool - it shows the enthusiasm these folks have.
First off, compared to the VTel project, I'm immediately inclined to favor ECF's by the simple fact that they're a public project, which the original stimulus language suggested should get priority, and they're looking for a loan rather than a grant, and I think so long as a project will be self-sustaining, it's always better to loan money that you'll get back some day than to just give handouts of free money. I also prefer ECF's project because they're going to be bringing fiber to every home in their service area. They're not going to leave anyone behind, creating second-class digital citizens. Finally, I think that ECF's project has a greater chance of establishing a model that the rest of the country can learn from, proving both that fiber can be economical in rural areas and that open multi-service networks can be financially viable.
Vermont was also one of the four states to receive the first awards for mapping broadband. Vermont is doing the work in-house:
The new federal funds will be managed by the Vermont Center for Geographic Information (VCGI) to implement the Vermont Broadband Mapping Initiative, a collaborative broadband data collection and verification effort involving partners from the public, private and academic sectors. This team -- VCGI, the Vermont Telecommunications Authority, the Vermont Department of Public Service, the University of Vermont’s Center for Rural Studies, and Vermont’s Enhanced 9-1-1 Board -- will use the latest technology to create a comprehensive and verified broadband availability map.
A local television station recently covered the EC Fiber Network in a good video segment.
Meanwhile, communities near Rutland (which is south and west of the EC Fiber network) are banding together to build their own network and are working with Valley Fiber (the initiative employing Tim Nulty helps communities build their own networks). They are in the process of finding towns willing to commit to the project. Comcast previously encouraged the Rutland City Council to avoid the project by misrepresenting their own network as a fiber network - nothing new there.
The plan is for the Rutland Redevelopment Authority to form an LLC (limited liability corporation) and to apply for federal funds made available for rural broadband expansion under the 2008 Farm Bill.
In return, towns would receive payments in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, and revenue sharing based on a town's volume of participation when the company becomes profitable – something that Nulty estimated would happen at the end of the fourth year in business. Participating towns can also expect that every residence will be connected "without excuses," product packages – including cable television, Internet and phone service – cheaper or on par with private competitors like Comcast and "superior service."
So far, the proposed network has 5 municipalities officially expressing interest. They are aiming for 14 partners in total.
One of their motivations is a recognition that both the EC Fiber areas and a potentially expanding Burlington network will really disadvantage them if stuck with the pokey investments made my cable and telephone companies who seem to forget that people in rural New England need broadband too.
Image from the National Atlas of the United States, which is in the public domain.