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Vermont to Conduct Public Hearings Regarding Broadband Service

August 27, 2014

Vermont to Conduct Public Hearings Regarding Broadband Service

By Casey Houser
Contributing Writer

The Department of Public Service for the state of Vermont is considering this week, in a series of public hearings, how it can keep telephony services up to date, properly working, and affordable for all its citizens.

The group has drafted a 10-year plan that includes its future goals for landline and cellular service, E911 services, and broadband connectivity. A recent news post from the Vermont Public Radio says the plan would basically require everyone in the state to have access to fiber broadband services by the year 2024. That requirement builds upon a ruling earlier this year when state lawmakers decided that all residents should have access to at least 100 Mbps service within 10 years.

The only way to make that speed a reality is with fiber. Most of the state is covered by cable, DSL, or wireless, and although those technologies currently can supply 78 percent of residents with speeds at or greater than 100 Mbps, the future lies in fiber because it is capable of providing broadband at much faster speeds than those available otherwise. Installing fiber networks will not only be difficult; it will also be expensive. Vermont Telecom Director Jim Porter provided a comment on the issue and the 10-year plan as a whole.

"It's one of the difficulties in writing a 10-year plan," Porter said. "Anyone can write a plan that mandates whatever speed, the problem is I don't control the funding source. You try to work as best you can. It's a very ambitious goal, but it's a very expensive goal."

If the state is going to try to reach the other 22 percent of citizen without access to broadband with those speed, and if it wants to do it with fiber through "dark fiber" networks, it will need funding from various sources. Porter suggested that state and federal funds may come through and help the Department of Public Service reach its short-term goals.

Concerning the longer term, Irv Thomae, chairman of the governing board of ECFiber, a fiber network provider for six central Vermont towns, says state-funded dark fiber projects will be the way to proceed if the state can provide the funds and if governing boards want a more comprehensive approach to reaching high broadband speeds.

Thomae says the state can raise money through bonds to pay for the service, but officials may run into problems with laws that restrict municipalities from investing in broadband. An industry analyst, Craig Settles, says there may not be enough funds coming from federal resources to make it possible for a state-wide project that results in everyone having broadband access as is detailed in the report. He believes that, in the end, it may be wiser to allow communities to make up their own minds about what sort of broadband they want; some may choose to reject the need for 100 Mbps service because it simply is not necessary for their operations. However, as communities develop and reach more into digital technologies, more communities that ever will be reaching out for high speeds, and the state will continue to be strapped for cash and resources to provide them all with their wants.

Edited by Alisen Downey
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