Tag: "communications union district"

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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Posted March 11, 2020 by Sushmita 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 Lisa Gonzalez

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 March 20, 2018 by Lisa Gonzalez

Earlier this month, twelve towns in central Vermont chose Town Meeting Day to ask local voters whether or not they want to band together to improve connectivity. Each community chose to participate in forming a regional Communications Union District, which will allow them to plan, bond for, and develop regional Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) infrastructure. For episode 298 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher interviews Jeremy Hansen, local Select Board Member and the person who spearheaded the effort to bring the issue to voters in his region.

As Jeremy tells it, he didn’t need to do much convincing when local Vermonters learned about the Communications Union District structure. Most of the people in central Vermont rely on DSL and they overwhelmingly find it inadequate for their needs. The Communications Union District allows several communities to combine their strengths to work toward a single goal. Like water of sewer districts, the entity can issue revenue bonds so the infrastructure is publicly owned, but user funded. ECFiber is organized as a Communications Union District and serves 24 member towns in the eastern part of the state.

Christopher and Jeremy talk about how Jeremy researched, heightened awareness, and how when voters understood the pros and cons, their own common sense led them to approve this first step. He describes what’s next and what he’d like to see happen with the Central Vermont Internet initiative.

This show is 24 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Read the transcript for this show here.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is ...

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Posted March 7, 2018 by Lisa Gonzalez

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. 

logo-cvi.jpg 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.

Learn more about ECFiber and communications...

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Posted February 27, 2018 by Lisa Gonzalez

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 April 26, 2016 by Tom Ernste

The East Central Vermont Community Fiber-Optic Network (ECFiber), a 235-mile Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network that currently connects over 1,200 customers across 24 small towns in east central Vermont, is doing well. It’s doing so well, in fact, that a capital investment group will commit $9 million in long-term financing to the network, a loan that will allow ECFiber to expand and spend down some of its existing debt. 

ECFiber announced last month, that it will use about half of the funds to activate 110 miles of existing fiber this year and add 250 more miles of fiber in 2017 bringing the network to approximately 600 miles. Network officials will use the remaining funds to pay down $7 million in debt; the move will allow ECFiber to save money through reduced interest rates and spread out loan payments over a longer period of time.

Stability Begets New Financing, New Possibilities

The news of this new injection of debt financing comes several years after the original plan to build a larger 1,900-mile, $90 million FTTH network ultimately didn’t materialize in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008. When ECFiber failed to secure debt financing for that larger plan, the network scaled back its ambitions, turning to direct investments and raising $7 million from 479 local investors to construct the current network.

This self-financing strategy (for more, listen to our Chris interview Carole Monroe, former General Manager in Community Broadband Bits podcast #177) made ECFiber a reality. This new financing will allow the network to expand at a faster pace and allows ECFiber to significantly stretch its footprint. In the past, the crowd funding approach allowed for targeted, smaller expansions.

The network became eligible for the new debt financing after ECFiber officials took proactive steps in recent years to demonstrate the...

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Posted January 6, 2016 by Scott Carlson

A new state law is on the books in Vermont that supporters expect will encourage more investor activity supporting community broadband networks. 

The new law, which took effect this past June, allows for the creation of “communications union districts,” enabling towns and cities to band together to form geographic entities dedicated to establishing fiber-optic broadband networks for their area’s residents and businesses. 

A New Nomenclature

While Vermont towns have been able to work cooperatively via inter-local contracts, the new law is less cumbersome and uses a governmental nomenclature more familiar to most people—the union district. The union district governance model has been used for many years throughout Vermont, including by various utilities that have multi-town operations to handle, for example, sewer and water service.  

Carole Monroe; general manager of the East Central Vermont Community Fiber-Optic Network (ECFiber), a consortium of 24 Vermont communities that have banded together to provide broadband service; told our Christopher Mitchell there isn’t much practical difference for her group operating now as the East Central Vermont Telecommunications District instead of by an inter-local contract.  

“But I can say that in the municipal investment markets, they’re much more familiar with the municipal utility district, whether it’s a water district or sewer district or something along those lines,” Monroe told Chris in a recent edition of Community Broadband Bits podcast. “A municipal utility district is a common language for them. Inter-local contracts, not so much.” 

ECFiber Grew From Inter-Local Contract 

Irvin Thomae, chairman of the EC Vermont Telecommunications District board, agreed. He noted that seven years ago the east central Vermont communities created ECFiber through an inter-local contract. “But this (the inter-local contract) was unfamiliar to investors beyond our state borders,” Thomae told us.

“We needed a structure more capable of being recognized by large institutional investors. It (the communications union district) makes it easier for community broadband networks to appeal more for large investors.”

Jerry Ward, an ECFiber delegate from Randolph Center, earlier in 2015...

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