Tag: "communications union district"

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 February 5, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

DVFiber, a Communications Union District in southern Vermont representing 20 towns looking to build a Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network to more than 10,000 unserved and underserved households in the region, has issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) in search of private sector groups interested in a public-private partnership agreement. 

The CUD envisions completing all connections by 2024 in two or three phases, with major progress made in the first year. The RFP provides detailed information on member towns for respondents, identifies possible funding identified by its Governing Board, and sets expectations for the resulting network. It sets a deadline for responses of March 26th, 2021.

“We are laser-focused on securing affordable, equitable high-speed Internet in our communities,” DVFiber Chair Ann Manwaring said in October of 2020. “The COVID pandemic has clarified this vital need, for education, for healthcare, for business. We are grateful for the support we have earned to date.”

The CUD model, established in 2015 in Vermont, allows area towns to band together in search of better broadband, leveraging more local resources and spreading the cost of new builds more widely. CUDs have helped Vermont towns by allowing them to bond together, offering the chance to entice investment in places that would otherwise struggle by pairing less dense communities with more dense ones, and by creating network efficiencies and building more resilient communities through lessons learned. Nine CUDs currently exist in the state (see map, with DVFiber in red at bottom right).

DVFiber, organized in April of 2020, originally brought together Halifax, Marlboro, Stamford, Stratton, Wilmington, and Whitingham. Since then, it’s expanded to include 20 towns in total. It currently covers 24,400 households, 7,300 of which are completely unserved by wireline broadband at speeds of at least 25/3 Megabits per second (Mbps...

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Posted December 10, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Vermont Communications Union District (CUD) EC Fiber continues mapping efforts in Windsor and Orange counties in anticipation of construction projects there in 2021.

Posted November 6, 2020 by Sean Gonsalves

As Vermont’s nascent Communication Union Districts (CUD) push to bring universal, truly high-speed Internet connectivity to the more rural parts of the Green Mountain State, CUD leaders are calling for changes in how federal funds get funneled to local municipalities, and for a change in how the federal government defines “high-speed” access.

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. The idea is for CUD’s to operate like a water, sewer, or school district as a way for local communities to build their own broadband infrastructure. Establishing a CUD also puts rural regions of Vermont in a position to borrow money on the municipal bond market and eases access to grants and loans to fund broadband projects.

The formation of Communication Union Districts across the state began to pick up steam in the months following Gov. Phil Scott’s signing of H.513 in June of 2019. That legislation, which set aside $1.5 million to support broadband projects, increased funding to help provide Internet service in unserved or underserved parts of the state. It also created a new Broadband Expansion Loan Program within the Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA) to assist start-up broadband providers in developing community-based solutions.

Funding Gaps

In a Zoom call last month with U.S. Rep Peter Welch, D-Vt., leaders from the state’s nine CUD’s met virtually with Welch to update the congressman on the status of their efforts and what they see as crucial to succeed in fulfilling their mission without burdening taxpayers.

Representing the Deerfield Valley Communications Union District, Ann Manwaring told Congressman Welch: “It’s wonderful to think about the notion that we should be running like an electric utility. But until there’s some federal legislative action that permits that to...

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Posted October 29, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Vermont Communications Union District ECFiber has been experiencing faster-than-expected growth and will hit eight additional towns in 2021 (including Bradford, Corinth, Fairlee, West Fairlee and Windsor). Vermont Digger also reports that it expects to take on an additional $11 million in debt to finance its expansion in the near future, bringing its total debt to $52 million.

Posted October 22, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

DVFiber, the nonprofit arm of the Deerfield Communications Union District (CUD), has received a $100,000 grant from the Vermont Public Service Department to conduct pole studies in the towns of Stamford, Halifax, and Whitingham. The grant, as well as an additional $8,000 grant to cover legal and administrative fees, will further propel the CUD down the path to a community-owned fiber network.

Posted September 24, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Another year of the Broadband Communities annual summit is behind us, and it’s worth revisiting the most salient moments from the panels that touched on the wealth and variety of issues related to community broadband regulation, financing, and expansion today and in the future. We weren’t able to make it to every panel, but read on for the highlights.

Last Mile Infrastructure and the Limits of CARES Funding

The first day of the program saw some heavyweight sessions from Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) on last mile digital infrastructure. For communities at all stages of broadband exploration and investment — whether exploring an initial feasibility study, putting together an RFP, or already planning for the future by laying conduit as part of other projects — partnerships dominated the discussion, with timing and debt also serving as common themes. 

ILSR’s Christopher Mitchel helped kick off the conference by moderating the first panel in the Rural/Editor's Choice track, and was joined by Peggy Schaffer from Maine's Broadband Office (ConnectME), Monica Webb from Internet Service Provider (ISP) Ting, and Roger Timmerman, CEO of Utah middle-mile network UTOPIA Fiber

The group discussed the open access models to start, and the benefits that could be realized from two- or three-layer systems. UTOPIA Fiber has seen some explosive growth and spearheaded significant innovation recently as it continues to provide wholesale service to ISPs that want to deliver retail service on the network. Ting, which recently signed on to be one of two providers on SiFi Network’s first FiberCity in Fullerton, California, also acts as an example of what can happen when we break away from thinking about infrastructure investment and Internet access as one-entity-doing-it-all.

The relative merits of wireless (both fixed and small cell) generated a lively discussion, with the panelists talking about advances to the...

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Posted August 3, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Granite Staters with poor Internet access in rural areas should soon realize the benefit of HB 1111, which just passed the state legislature and was signed into law by the governor. The measure provides for the establishment of communications districts to pursue Internet infrastructure projects in New Hampshire. In addition, the law makes it easier for municipalities to determine which areas under their purview are unserved in order to target broadband expansion efforts and expand access to all. 

Removing Barriers, Providing New Tools 

Two years ago SB 170 passed the legislature, allowing communities in the state to bond to develop publicly owned Internet infrastructure for the first time. The bill, however, made such moves contingent upon proving that the proposed areas were “unserved” by a connection of 25/3 megabits per second (Mbps). To do so local governments were required to issue an RFI to the existing Internet Service Provider (ISP). At the time we anticipated trouble with existing providers who had a history of claiming service to large areas when the reality was that many were unserved, and it turns out that worry was well-founded: communities reported that ISPs were ignoring requests for information, making it difficult for them to make progress. 

HB 1111 changes that. If an RFI to a provider goes unanswered for 60 days, it is assumed the latter is unable to deliver broadband. Municipalities can then come together and form communications districts which have the authority to use general obligation bonds to fund an overbuild of the area and seek out public-private partnerships to provide new service.

“Access to consistent broadband and high-speed internet was a problem long before this crisis and the remote learning, work, and health care environment has only exacerbated those inequities,” State Senator Jay Kahn told news outlets. “As we prepare for the possibility of a second wave, we must take steps that efficiently use public funds to leverage private investment to deliver high-...

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Posted May 28, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Update (6/18/20)

In response to the $1.25 billion Vermont received from the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund, lawmakers immediately began discussing using $100 million of it to bridge the state's digital divide, with fully $45 million going to construction of new fiber networks across the Green Mountain State. But they were quickly stopped short by restrictions set on the monies, which stipulated the strict terms by which the funds were to be used. In the end, the state won't be seeing any construction from these funds. Instead a smaller amount — $43 million — will be directed at immediate relief efforts rather than long-term planning:

  • "$13 million in proposed spending to connect Vermonters to broadband internet services. The bulk of that, $11 million, would create a program to be managed by the public service department called Get Vermonters Connected Now [to] provide subsidies to low-income Vermonters who can't afford to use broadband networks already available in their neighborhoods."
  • "$20 million to compensate utilities . . . for the cost of continuing to serve people who stopped paying bills due to COVID-19."
  • "$7.3 million for the Agency of Digital Services to make it more secure for state employees to work remotely and to upgrade the obsolete unemployment insurance computer system."
  • "$500,000 for a "telecommunications recovery plan."
  • "$466,500 for local cable access organizations in recognition of the additional coverage they've taken on during the pandemic."

It's possible that federal regulations could change, but in the meantime Vermonters will have to look inward to solve its connectivity challenges.

Original Story

Vermont’s Department of Public Service recently released an Emergency Broadband Action Plan that is among the most aggressive of all state responses to the coronavirus pandemic. The state currently has 944 cases of COVID-19, with 54 attributable deaths. A full third of households with school children...

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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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