Tag: "ecfiber"

Posted May 15, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

In March, we reported on the formation of Deerfield Valley Communications Union District in Vermont.

That same month, communities in different parts of the state also formed two other communications union districts (CUDs) to improve their local connectivity. Voters in dozens of towns approved the formation of Northeast Kingdom CUD and Southern Vermont CUD during Vermont’s Town Meeting Day on March 3. The two new CUDs are currently undertaking feasibility studies and hope to take advantage of federal and state funding — including through Vermont’s new — to deploy Fiber-to-the-Home networks to all region residents and businesses.

Developing Districts

Northeast Kingdom CUD is currently made up of 27 towns in the counties of Caledonia, Essex, and Orleans. The group’s FAQ explains that the district’s goal is to “bring a reliable and affordable, high-speed Internet option (at least 100 mbps symmetrical) to every residential and business e911 address in the Northeast Kingdom. According to VTDigger, the participating communities are in some of the most underserved counties in Vermont.

On the other end of the state, the Southern Vermont CUD is comprised of 12 member towns, all in Bennington County. The fact that all of the towns voted to join the CUD doesn’t surprise local officials, who are familiar with residents’ desire for better connectivity. “I had heard next to no negative comments about the CUD, and mostly people who are really anxious to see their internet situation improve," Tim Scoggins, Southern Vermont CUD Governing Board Chair and Shaftsbury Selectboard Chair, told the Bennington Banner.

Both of the new CUDs plan to conduct feasibility studies and create business plans using funding from the state’s Broadband Innovation Grant Program. When it comes to deploying their networks, the two entities hope to tap into federal and state funds to finance construction. “The...

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Posted March 11, 2020 by shrestha

Many Vermont communities are looking to ECFiber and Central Vermont Internet as models for the creation of communications union districts (CUD) to develop regional fiber networks. By combining several towns’ efforts, CUDs bring high-quality Internet service to underserved residents and local businesses.

On March 3rd, four towns from Windham County in the southeastern corner of Vermont voted to create a CUD. The new Deerfield Valley CUD will join the small towns of Marlboro, Halifax, Whitingham, and Wilmington. All four communities are located in mountainous areas where infrastructure development is often challenging and costly. The towns’ joint venture will help finance broadband deployment in the region.

Slow Speeds, High Costs

The towns have been operating on slow DSL connectivity, which is insufficient for things like telehealth services, online education, and local economic development. According to state data from 2018, about 27 percent of all locations in Windham County do not have access to broadband.

Clay Purvis, director of telecommunications at the Vermont Department of Public Service, described how connectivity is an issue in the state because of the high price to deploy the infrastructure:

Our geography is really challenging in Vermont — we are dispersed, we have small towns, we have farming communities — so the distance between service locations is far, so the cost of deploying broadband is more expensive per location . . . Hills are the enemy of wireless technology and it requires a lot more towers, for instance, to bring cell coverage to the same number of people.

More power to small towns

The CUD model minimizes the...

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Posted November 20, 2019 by lgonzalez

When Vermont passed legislation to establish "communications union districts" in 2015, funding options expanded for regional community network ECFiber. Since then, other states trying to expand access to broadband in rural areas have looked at the success of ECFiber as a possible model. Now, New Hampshire is considering establishing a similar option as a way for local communities to improve local connectivity.

Waiting for Session

Democratic State Senator Jeanne Dietsch from Peterborough has drafted legislation she intends to introduce in the 2020 session. The bill will allow communities to establish "communications districts" to develop broadband infrastructure, similar to the way they band together in order to create sewer districts for necessary infrastructure. The entities are able to finance projects by applying for grants, loans, issuing bonds, and charging user fees, but are not able to tax.

In a recent GovTech article, Dietsch said:

“We modeled it on New Hampshire sewer districts just because that is language that’s already familiar to our legislators, and it’ll be much easier for them to pass it that way than to try to make it look like Vermont.”

The lawmaker was reflecting on difficulties the legislature had passing Senate Bill 103, which allows municipalities to work together for "multi-town bonding projects." Special interest lobbyists, whose job it is to maintain ISP monopolies, leveled their efforts at the bill when it appeared fearing the competition it might bring. Dietsch wants to avoid a similar fight with the communications district proposal, so has carefully crafted the language of the bill.

If passed, the new authority will allow cities to develop the infrastructure in order to work with private sector partners. ECFiber offers fast, affordable, reliable Internet access directly to the public, rather than providing fiber optic infrastructure for Internet access companies to use.

ECFiber

logo-ecfiber.png Prior to becoming a communications union...

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Posted May 21, 2019 by htrostle

In late April 2019, the Vermont Public Service Department announced $220,000 worth of grants to bring high-speed Internet service to 220 homes and businesses around the state. The Department awarded ECFiber with about $63,000 to serve nearly 50 homes and businesses in Tunbridge and Corinth, Vermont, according to the press release. 

This was a competitive award: 20 organizations applied for $960,000 worth of grants from the Connectivity Initiative, but only a few organizations received funding. The Department explained that they chose those projects that had the most bang for their buck. The Department is spending less than $1,000 on average for each address that is considered unserved or underserved. According to June Tierney, Commissioner of the Public Service Department:

“The Connectivity Initiative enables providers to bring high-speed internet to communities with some of the hardest to serve locations, both in terms of cost and terrain.”

From DSL to Fiber

ECFiber is a community-driven effort of 24 member towns focused on bringing high-speed Internet service to rural Vermont, but for the first few years of its existence, the government continually passed over ECFiber for funding. The organization instead used an innovative self-financing model to raise funds, got some funding from a capital investment group, and later, after the state established the "communications union district" designation, issued revenue bonds to continue to grow. Now ECFiber...

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Posted April 2, 2019 by lgonzalez

Interest in community broadband and broadband service from cooperatives has grown significantly within the past few years. This legislative session, lawmakers in states such as Vermont, North Carolina, and Arkansas, have decided that they’d like to start contributing to new ways to bring better Internet access to their constituents. This week, Christopher and Jess Del Fiacco, our Communications Specialist, sit down to review some of the most recent state bills that we find promising.

Jess and Christopher talk about H 513 making it’s way through Vermont’s legislature. The bill contains policy changes and financial support designed to invigorate local broadband projects. H 513 was developed after state leaders examined the success of ECFiber, the regional network that brings gigabit connectivity to more than 20 communities in the central part of the state. 

The state of North Carolina’s FIBER NC ACT, which relaxes some of the state’s restrictions on local Internet network infrastructure investment, also comes up in the conversation. Christopher finds the bill a promising start to restoration of local telecommunications authority in North Carolina. State lawmakers are also considering another bill that will assist with pole issues.

Christopher and Jess spend some time examining what’s happening in Tallahassee, Florida, where city leaders have decided that they...

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Posted March 28, 2019 by lgonzalez

Current lawmakers in the Vermont House have rapidly advanced H 513, a bill that addresses both policy and funding hurdles in an attempt to expand broadband throughout the state. After a vote of 139 - 2, the bill went on to the Senate on March 26th.

Looking at Local Models

H 513 recognizes that more than a quarter of the state’s premises don’t have access to broadband speeds as defined by the FCC, 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. The state’s Department of Public Service, which assembled the data, also determines that almost a fifth of premises can’t obtain speeds of 10 Mbps / 1 Mbps. With so many rural communities hurting for access to fast, affordable, reliable connectivity, state lawmakers are anxious to find tools to expand broadband across Vermont.

Legislators note in the language of H 513 that they believe the FCC’s “light-touch” approach toward expansion of broadband:

“…does little, if anything, to overcome the financial challenges of bringing broadband service to hard-to-reach locations with low population density. However, it may result in degraded broadband quality of service.”


H 513 goes on to acknowledge that grassroots approaches that use local knowledge and support will be the most successful in Vermont.

Lawmakers and their staff have lauded ECFiber as one model that works in a place like Vermont, where many smaller communities can pool their resources and work together to develop a regional network. As the Communications Union District has developed over the years and dealt with funding challenges head-on, it has become apparent that access to capital is one of the most difficult hurdles to overcome.

Funding for Innovation

seal-vermont.png In order to help local projects, H 513 will establish the Broadband Innovation Grant Program within the Department of Public Service (DPS) and the Broadband Expansion Loan Program within the Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA). 

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Posted February 27, 2018 by lgonzalez

Thirteen communities in central Vermont will ask residents if they want to authorize a communications union district, the first step toward a regional publicly owned Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.

Which Towns Will Participate?

On March 6th, towns in Vermont will participate in Town Meeting Day 2018 when they’ll gather and decide a range of issues such as how to spend town funds, which policies to implement, and other choices that effect the entire community. For the past year, Berlin board member and computer science professor Jeremy Hansen has approached town officials from nearby communities to discuss the possibility of developing a regional network.

As an elected official, his constituents have made him aware of poor Internet access in central Vermont. Currently, much of the area relies on DSL from Fairpoint with maximum speeds of 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload, a far cry from the 25/3 FCC standard that defines broadband. There are also residents in the area that still use dial-up Internet access.

Local Jerry Diamantides, who works remotely for a company located in Virginia told Vermont Public Radio:

"It is DSL," Diamantides explains. "The ‘S’ certainly stands for slow. The ‘L’ must stand for low. And we’ll let the ‘D’ stand on its own, I guess. But, it’s barely sufficient for what I need."

Inspired By ECFiber

Hansen wants to improve connectivity in the region by establishing a communications union district, which is the model EC Fiber uses. The designation is much like a sewer or water utility, but focuses on delivering Internet access. EC Fiber began with a different model that relied on private investment, but when the state established the communications utility district designation, it was then able to seek financing from a range of other sources. That funding was critical to allow the network to expand, serve more subscribers, and continue to grow.

As he’s presented his proposal to elected...

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Posted November 13, 2017 by ChristopherBarich

In August, East Central Vermont Telecommunications District (ECFiber) released their 2018 construction plans to expand fiber optic network to the towns of Braintree, Brookfield, Granville, Hancock, Rochester, and Stockbridge in east-central Vermont. 

Homegrown And Community Owned

According to Irv Thomae, the District Chairman:

“Our mission is to build and operate a universal, open access, fiber-to-the premises network, ensuring state-of-the art connectivity to every home, business and civic institution in all of our member towns. We are pleased that thanks to our recent financing we can at last provide near-universal coverage to six more towns.” 

As of October, ECFiber has built over 420 miles of fiber optic cable and connected over 2,000 active customers in parts or all of their 24 member towns. They plan to complete another 170 miles of the network by the end of 2017 and another 250 miles in 2018. “We plan to continue this process of filling out towns until the entire District is covered,” says Thomae.

ECFiber is a consortium of 24 Vermont towns organized as a Communications Union District under Vermont law (30 V.S.A. § 3052). ValleyNet, a nonprofit organization based in Royalton, operates the community owned fiber optic network. The Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) infrastructure provides symmetrical speeds from 17 to 700 Megabits per second (Mbps) with no data caps. Top speeds will increase to gigabit connectivity later this year.

In the organization’s infancy, ECFiber submitted several funding proposals to obtain grants or loans under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), but the funds...

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Posted July 1, 2017 by lgonzalez

In true publicly owned network fashion, ECFiber in Vermont has increased speeds without raising rates. This is the third such speed increase in four years that did not come with a price increase. Even better, ECFiber plans to do it again next year.

The break down of the changes are:

Basic: Increases from 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) to 17 Mbps

Standard: Increases from 25 Mbps to 40 Mbps

Ultra: Doubles from 100 Mbps to 200 Mbps

Wicked: Goes from 500 Mbps to 700 Mbps

All speeds from ECFiber are symmetrical, so upload and download speeds are the same. Later this year, the organization plans to increase speeds again and the organization will offer a gigabit plan.

Publicly Owned Networks Are Doing It

Municipal networks and regional networks make it a habit to increase speeds with modest or no price increases. We’ve noticed the behavior in several places, but gathered data for eight publicly owned networks in the state of Tennessee to highlight this characteristic.

Check out our Municipal Networks: Speed Increases & Affordable Prices fact sheet.

Expanding While Saving Public Dollars

As we reported in March, the town-owned Communications Union District is expanding and building out in remaining member towns. They are also serving community facilities, such as schools, libraries, and town halls with the fastest speeds available for only $74 per month. Incumbents charge $2,000 per month for the same level of service. In a school, that comes to about $23,000 each year to free up for educational programs, rather than telecommunications costs.

Listen our recent conversation with Carole Monroe and Irv Thomae about the network in episode 251 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Posted May 9, 2017 by Staff

This is the transcript for Episode 251 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Carole Monroe and Irv Thomae discuss connectivity in East Central Vermont and the future of the ECFiber Network. Listen to this episode here.

 

Carole Monroe: What we see, in this area, is that most of the customers coming to ECFiber are customers that are coming from FairPoint.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 251 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast, from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. ECFiber is a consortium of 24 member towns in East Central Vermont that banded together in 2008, on a mission to bring high quality connectivity to their small, rural towns. The project began with funds from many local investors. Since then, the network has expanded, and a new structure will allow ECFiber to continue to grow. In this interview, we learn about ECFiber's past, present, and future plans. Christopher's guests, Carole Monroe and Irv Thomae, describe what it was like getting the community network going. Now, here's Christopher with Carole Monroe and Irv Thomae, talking about ECFiber in Vermont.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell, and I'm enthusiastic today, to be talking with Carole Monroe, once more. Carole is now the CEO of ValleyNet. Welcome back to the show.

Carole Monroe: Thank you. Glad to be here.

Christopher Mitchell: And we also have Irv Thomae on, who is the district chairman of the governing board for the East Central Vermont Fiber Network-

Irv Thomae: Telecommunications district.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. We're going to explain for a second, how that used to be ECFiber, and now has a different name because it has a new, exciting approach. So welcome to the show, Irv.

Irv Thomae: Thank you.

Christopher Mitchell: Maybe that's actually just a really good place to start, quickly. Irv, can you just remind me how ECFiber is now structured?

Irv Thomae: We were and still are a collection of 24 municipalities in East Central Vermont, but we formed, originally, under...

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