Recent Announcements Point to Broadband Expansion Progress in Vermont

Recent announcements at the end of 2021 highlight progress being made in expanding high-speed broadband infrastructure and access in Vermont. 

The Vermont Technology Alliance has been advocating for expanded broadband for more than 10 years. Now with the increased awareness for the need for connectivity for education, work, telemedicine and more resulting from the pandemic, and with substantial federal funding being made available, Vermont is in a strong position for progress in making high-speed broadband available across the state, particularly in unserved or underserved areas.

Here are some of the recent news highlights:

Nearly all of Vermont now Eligible for USDA Funding to Expand Internet

Nearly all of Vermont is now eligible for funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help cover the cost of building high-speed broadband infrastructure in rural areas, thanks to a rule change led by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

USDA is accepting applications for its $1.15 billion ReConnect Program, which is designed to help offset the high cost of building broadband infrastructure to rural communities where it would be otherwise unprofitable and untenable.

Loans and grants go to local, state, tribal and territory governments, as well as corporations, companies and cooperatives, in areas of the country where at least 90% of households lack broadband service at 100 megabits per second download and 20 upload. Funding priority goes to low-density rural areas with even slower and sparser service.

Previously, a large swath of Vermont served by the Vermont Telephone Co. Inc., or VTel, was ineligible for the program. Leahy, in his capacity as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, helped change the eligibility requirements.

Now, nearly all areas of the state with slow service qualify, except for those where VTel is providing fiber service.

The ReConnect Program money is in addition to nearly $2 billion dedicated to broadband infrastructure in Congress’s and President Joe Biden’s infrastructure package signed into law this month. Vermont will get $100 million of that money to expand broadband coverage.

Read more here.

Four CUDs Get $9.9 Million to Help Expand Broadband

In November, The Vermont Community Broadband Board awarded Preconstruction Grants to four Communication Union Districts (CUDs). The Broadband Preconstruction Grant Program provides grants to CUDs for preconstruction costs related to broadband projects that are a part of a universal service plan. 

Eligible costs include expenses for feasibility studies, business planning, pole data surveys, engineering and design, and make-ready work associated with the construction of broadband networks, including consultant, legal, and administrative expenses.

The Vermont Community Broadband Board will issue grants for construction costs early next year. Three of the four groups awarded in this first round of grants expect to begin construction in the spring of 2022.

These first grants provide nearly $10 million to preconstruction activities that will accelerate the construction timeframe in several Communications Union Districts. Currently, 200 of Vermont’s 251 towns are members of a Communications Union District. 

Receiving grants are:

  • Maple Broadband – $2,399,200

Maple Broadband represents 20 Addison County communities. The district has selected Waitsfield Champlain Valley Telecom as the network operator and completed a high-level design for the network. 

  • Central Vermont Fiber (CVFiber) – $2,804,667

The money will cover the remaining cost of the utility pole inventory for twelve communities, and all of the cost for the detailed engineering design for seventeen of CVFiber’s twenty-one member communities. 

  • Deerfield Valley Communications Union District (DVFiber) – $4,111,318

The Preconstruction funding enables DVFiber to proceed with the design and engineering of a high-speed fiber optic network that will reach all unserved and underserved homes and businesses within its 24 member towns in Windham, Bennington and Windsor Counties.

  • Northwest Communications Union District (NWCUD) – $604,376.25

NWCUD consists of eighteen (18) towns and villages in Franklin and Grand Isle Counties. The funding will support organizational capacity and pole study work. 

Read more here.

ECFiber Secures $11.8 million in New Funding

ECFiber announced it has placed $9 million of new municipal revenue bonds, bringing ECFiber’s total bond commitments to $63.3 million with about 70% of its network constructed. Most of the $9 million from bonds will be spent on construction in the towns of Norwich, Woodstock, and Hartford’s villages of Wilder, White River Junction, and Quechee during 2022.  ECFiber is one of a very few municipalities to construct a broadband network almost entirely from network revenues rather than tax revenues, grants, or some other form of a public guarantee.

Read more here.

CVFiber Chooses Team for Broadband Network

CVFiber has begun network developer and operator negotiations with the joint partnership of three firms, the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC), Waitsfield Champlain Valley Telecom (WCVT) and Mission Broadband. This is a major step forward to delivering 100/100 Mbps broadband service to all addresses connected to the electrical grid in the 21 communities in the CVFiber Communications Union District.

The CVFiber community network will consist of more than 1,200 miles of fiber-optic cable, cost approximately $50 million, and take four plus years to construct, depending on funding, materials, and labor availability. Construction will begin in 2022.

Read more here.

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