Tag: "Vermont"

Posted October 19, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

With American Rescue Plan funds flowing into state government coffers, about a third of the nation’s 50 states have announced what portion of their Rescue Plan dollars are being devoted to expanding access to high-speed Internet connectivity.

The federal legislation included $350 billion for states to spend on water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure, though everything we have seen suggests that the vast majority of that will not go to broadband. There is also another $10 billion pot of rescue plan funds, called the Capital Projects Fund, that mostly must be used to expand access to broadband.

Laboratories of Broadband-ification 

As expected, each state is taking their own approach. California is making a gigantic investment in middle-mile infrastructure and support for local Internet solutions while Maryland is making one of the biggest investments in municipal broadband of any other state in the nation. And although Colorado does not prioritize community-driven initiatives, state lawmakers there have earmarked $20 million for Colorado’s two federally-recognized Indian tribes to deploy broadband infrastructure with another $15 million devoted to boosting telehealth services in the state.     

Undoubtedly, individual states’ funding priorities vary. Some states may be relying on previously allocated federal investments to boost broadband initiatives and/or have been persuaded the private sector alone will suffice in solving its connectivity challenges. And in some states, such as Illinois, Minnesota, and Maine, lawmakers have prioritized using state funds to support broadband expansion efforts while other states may be waiting on the infrastructure bill now making its way through Congress before making major broadband funding decisions.

As of this writing, 17 states have earmarked a portion of their Rescue Plan money (totaling about $7.6 billion) to address the digital divide within their borders. Those states are Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Missouri, Virginia, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.

A handful of those states are making major investments to boost broadband with an emphasis on community-driven solutions where local governments, public entities, and non-profit organizations can...

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Posted September 7, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Vermont’s nine Communication Union Districts (CUDs) were formed to build communication infrastructure to deliver reliable and affordable high-speed Internet access across one of the most rural states in the nation.

The East Central CUD, which owns and operates EC Fiber, has led the charge since its founding in 2011. But over the last few years other CUDs have launched their own plans to build fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) networks in their respective districts with each at various stages of planning or building.

Addison County is situated on the western border of the state about 35 miles west of the state capital (Montpelier), tucked between Lake Champlain and the Green Mountains. The region has long been served, or rather underserved, by Comcast, as the area’s primary Internet Service Provider does not cover the most rural parts of the county, leaving many of the county’s approximately 36,200 residents with outdated DSL service.

Poor connectivity at a time when high-speed Internet access is a must for most led to the establishment of the Addison County Communications Union District (ACCUD). Headquartered in the county seat in the town of Middlebury, over the past year, the fledgling CUD has grown to include 20 adjacent towns: Addison, Bridport, Bristol, Cornwall, Ferrisburgh, Leicester, Lincoln, Middlebury, Monkton, New Haven, Orwell Panton, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham, Starksboro, Vergennes, Waltham, Weybridge, and Whiting. The CUD has taken on the name Maple Broadband and is now setting the table to provide fiber-fed Internet service for broadband-hungry residents living in some of the hardest parts of the state to reach and serve.

New Public-Private Partnership Announced

Just two weeks ago – with an eye toward bringing fiber connectivity to every address in its territory – Maple Broadband announced a partnership with Vermont-based...

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Posted July 30, 2021 by Maren Machles

The Vermont Department of Public Service released its most recent 10-year telecommunications plan earlier this month, once again prioritizing Communication Union Districts (CUDs) as the key to closing the digital divide and connecting the 51,000 households that remain unserved and underserved throughout the state. 

The nearly 400-page report outlines a community-centered plan to deploy infrastructure providing 100 megabits per second (Mbps) symmetrical broadband across the state, with capabilities to increase speeds when demand warrants it. The plan maintains that the two main ways to get there are via partnerships and fiber.

The report - which was developed in partnership with CTC Energy and Technology and Vermont-based Rural Innovations Strategies, Inc. - details the importance of  optimizing the power of public-private partnership in maintaining that balance. 

The plan comes off the heels of the state legislature passing H.B. 360, a $150 million broadband bill which was funded by the federal American Rescue Act Plan, in May. The bill, now Act 71, created the Vermont Community Broadband Board and tasked the board with helping to fund and organize the deployment of broadband infrastructure for Vermont's nine CUDs.

CUDs were created in 2015, when the state legislature passed a law allowing two or more towns to join forces as a municipal entity and build communication infrastructure together. The hope was that CUDs would prompt local areas to assume responsibility and control over the broadband solution in their areas by collaborating with ILECs and ISPs. They succeeded and have been rapidly gaining steam over the last few years, with, for example, some DV Fiber currently working to serve upwards of 20 towns in the Southeast corner of the state, and NEK CUD working in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom to serve more than 50.

...

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Posted June 29, 2021 by Maren Machles

This week on the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher Mitchell chats with Sean Gonsalves, ILSR's Community Broadband Senior Reporter, Editor and Researcher to catch up on some of the most interesting broadband stories in recent weeks.

The two begin by discussing a recent story by Jericho Casper, ILSR Researcher and Writer, reporting more than 20 communities in New Hampshire are entering into public-private partnerships to get their residents more connected. Gonsalves also talks about his recent feature story about Northeast Kingdom Communication Union District (CUD) in Vermont and the state's unique approach to achieving universal broadband access by 2024. 

Chris and Sean end by talking candidly about the real problems with broadband in America, and the challenges we face in urban environments as well as rural swaths of the country. They talk about the real value of supporting community-owned models, and the benefits of injecting competition into a broken marketplace.

This show is 30 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

Read the transcript here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes ...

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Posted June 24, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

Internet connectivity in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom is, well, downright medieval by modern telecommunication standards. With the exception of a handful of homes in the more densely populated communities of St. Johnsbury and Newport, the only choice for most folks living in the rural environs of the Northeast Kingdom is between DSL and satellite.

That’s all changing now thanks to one of the state’s nascent Communication Union Districts (CUD), enabled by a 2015 Vermont law that allows two or more towns to join together as a municipal entity to build communication infrastructure. These local governmental bodies were formed to help the state reach its goal of having universal access to broadband by 2024.

In the Realm of Broadband, Fiber is King 

Formed in March of 2020, the NEK CUD has already raised $743,000 through a variety of grant programs, and, over the past year, has forged a partnership with Kingdom Fiber using COVID-relief funding to connect nearly 100 homes in the towns of Albany, Craftsbury, Greensboro, Hardwick, and Irasburg.

Now, the NEK CUD, known as NEK Community Broadband, has taken another major step on the path to bringing fiber connectivity to all residents and businesses in the 55 towns that comprise the district. Last week, the NEK CUD approved a $120 million business plan that will deploy about 2,800 miles of fiber across the region, passing 33,000 premises, according to NEK Community Broadband Chairman Evan Carlson.

“It’s mostly DSL here with 49 percent of addresses (in the Northeast Kingdom) not having access to anything 25/3 Mbps (Megabits per second) or above,” Carlson told us in a recent interview.

“I had HughesNet at one point and I was paying $150 a month. But now I have StarLink. It’s not perfect but…,” Carlson began to say, as his connection froze for about 10 seconds.

Hark! FTTH Cometh to the REAP Zone

The expensive and unreliable connectivity Carlson and his fellow NEK residents have had to deal with will change drastically once the Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network construction gets underway later this year. With Request for Proposals soliciting construction and Internet Service Provider (ISP) bids due by June 18, Carlson said he...

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Posted June 14, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Municipal networks in the United States have proven that when dollars are invested in publicly owned information infrastructure, they often return value back to the community several times over. This new fact sheet [pdf] highlights municipal broadband success stories from across the country and some of the many benefits the networks have brought to the communities they serve. 

These networks are directly accountable to the community and have proved themselves for more than 20 years in some cases, bringing lower prices to households than the large private providers. Municipal networks and partnerships account for 9 of the top 10 fastest broadband networks in the nation.

Download Snapshots of Municipal Broadband: A Much-Needed Part of America's Digital Ecosystem [pdf] here.

For timely updates, follow Christopher Mitchell or MuniNetworks on Twitter and sign up to get the Community Broadband weekly update.

Posted May 25, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

North Carolina Governor budgets $1.2 billion of Rescue Plan funds towards closing the digital divide

Vermont Senate includes private ISPs in what was a community-based solution to universal access

Alabama Governor approves $17 million in broadband grants, some to Comcast and Charter Spectrum

The State Scene

North Carolina 

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper released a budget proposal last Wednesday that anticipates using $1.2 billion of incoming federal COVID-19 relief funds towards broadband infrastructure, affordability initiatives, and expanding digital literacy. With North Carolina set to receive a total of $5.7 billion in federal American Rescue Plan funds, Gov. Cooper is dedicating nearly one-fifth of the incoming relief to closing the digital divide. 

Next, the State House, Senate, and the North Carolina General Assembly will create their proposals for how to spend the relief funding. Then, they'll have to rectify any differences. Each chamber's plans could look similar to the governor's or vastly different. 

Gov. Cooper’s proposal specifically allocates [pdf]:

  • $600 million towards expanding broadband infrastructure, including: $350 million for the state’s existing last-mile grant program (GREAT grants), $150 million for competitive bidding which will allow county governments to leverage the funds for public-private partnerships, and $100 million towards stop gap solutions “to address local infrastructure needs and connect underserved households not likely to get fiber for three to four years.”

  • $420 million towards affordability initiatives which will subsidize low-income service plans.

  • $165 million for digital literacy, including: $40 million towards device support to provide computers to 96,000 households which currently lack them; $30 million towards break/fix services to replace devices for over 275,000 North Carolinians; and $95 million towards community-based digital literacy campaigns.

The plan aims to connect 100 percent of North Carolina households with children to high-speed Internet access by 2025, and anticipates the affordability initiatives in the proposed budget will provide 380,000 individuals with a $50/month subsidy for four years. 

Although some of North Carolina’s...

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Posted April 20, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

Maryland plans to funnel American Rescue Plan Act funding towards community broadband 

Vermont Governor bolsters House plan backing Communications Union Districts 

A national movement to address digital inclusion ignites

See the bottom of this post for related job openings

 

State Scene

Maryland

Maryland State Governor Larry Hogan made digital equity and literacy a top priority of the state when he signed H.B. 97, the Digital Connectivity Act, into law on April 13. The new law establishes the Office of Statewide Broadband (OSB) within the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development to create a plan to get all Marylanders connected to affordable, high-speed Internet by 2026. The OSB will also assist in administering $300 million for digital equity initiatives out of the $3.9 billion Maryland received in American Rescue Plan funds. 

The $300 million allocation will be broken down into separate pots of money to address physical infrastructure, affordability, and adoption: $45 million will be for grants that support and expand municipal broadband networks; $75 million for affordability initiatives to subsidize the cost of monthly service fees and devices for eligible residents who are subscribers to private Internet Service Providers (ISPs); and $150 million dedicated to deploy broadband infrastructure and expand connectivity in both urban and rural areas. In addition, $10 million is earmarked for local government and community-based solutions, and $6 million will support adoption initiatives, including $4 million for a new division under the University System of Maryland to develop curriculum on digital literacy and addressing the broadband gap.

Maryland had a state rural broadband office prior to the creation of the new OSB office. The rural broadband office offers support to Maryland’s rural regions attempting to access federal funding opportunities. The new OSB will be dedicated to addressing barriers that address the connectivity challenges Maryland’s suburban and metro residents...

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Posted April 1, 2021 by Jericho Casper

A bill dedicating $150 million of anticipated federal funding to create a new state broadband office to coordinate and accelerate the expansion of high-speed Internet access throughout Vermont passed the State House of Representatives last week with overwhelming bipartisan support.

On March 24th, the Vermont House approved H.B. 360 by a vote of 145-1, backing the creation of the Vermont Community Broadband Authority. If the bill becomes law it would help fund and organize the deployment of broadband infrastructure between Vermont’s nine Communications Union Districts (CUDs) and their potential partners, which include electric distribution utilities, nonprofit organizations, the federal government, and private Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

The bill was introduced in the state Senate last Friday, and discussed for the first time in the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday.

Enabled by a 2015 law, CUDs are local governmental bodies consisting of two or more towns joined together to build communications infrastructure. They were established to create innovative solutions to build broadband networks and provide a combination of Fiber-to-the-Home and fixed wireless Internet connectivity in their respective territories across Vermont, especially in areas where incumbent ISPs fail to provide adequate service. 

Vermont’s CUDs, which have called for federal funding assistance since the onset of the pandemic, are ideally positioned to distribute funds in a way that will provide reliable and high-performance Internet access to every nook-and-cranny of the state. Vermont’s active CUDs have already constructed deep pockets of fiber.

Whether or not the CUDs will be able to reach the state’s goal of delivering universal 100/100 Megabits per second (Mbps) Internet service by 2024 now rests in the hands of Vermont’s Senate, Congress, and the Biden Administration as state and federal lawmakers wrestle with how to best expand access to broadband.

CUDs Desire State...

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Posted March 22, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

A California ballot initiative would empower voters to build their own Internet access solutions.

The Oklahoma House sends seven broadband bills to Senate.

New York and North Carolina initiate statewide digital inclusion programs.

Virginia is second state to pass comprehensive privacy legislation. 

See the bottom of this post for some broadband-related job openings. 

The State Scene 

California Legislation Could Lead To Massive Investments in Public Broadband

As lawmakers in the Golden State look to rectify a reputation of having one of the highest student populations without Internet connectivity, bills aiming to expand access to 98 percent of California households by increasing investments in public broadband infrastructure were launched early in California’s legislative session.

Though there are several other bills pertaining to broadband that have been introduced in Sacramento, we focus on these four because, if passed, they would have the biggest impact on municipal networks.

S.B. 4, sponsored by State Sen. Lena Gonzalez, D-33, would create a new state-backed bond program, enabling local governments to finance more than $1 billion in public infrastructure projects through bond issuances. The low-interest debt for the projects could be repaid over multiple decades. 

As the Electronic Frontier Foundation recently reported, “California’s current law (known as the California Advanced Services Fund or CASF) has failed to meet the digital divide challenge. It discriminates against local community bidders to build broadband infrastructure, favors spending state money on slow...

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