It's only about a 30-minute drive on back roads from St. Johnsbury to the town of Victory. But in terms of the information superhighway, it's a lengthy journey. The town and others like it represent the proverbial "last mile" when it comes to broadband connectivity.
For Victory Town Clerk Ruth Neborsky, the lack of fast Internet connection is more than inconvenient.
"That is a struggle. When you have to download large files it takes a long time. Sometimes you get booted off. If the weather's bad, you have no access. That's just here in the town hall. At home it's a huge chunk of my life," Neborsky said.
In addition to her town duties and other work, she takes online graduate classes in nursing from her home. Like some of Victory's 64 residents, she depends on a satellite dish. Others, like select board chair Ed Brown, still depend on dial-up.
"One step above smoke signals," Brown said. "We've never been a priority. We've always been told this part of the Kingdom is pretty wild out here... still is."
Even 50 years ago the same was true when Victory was one of the last communities to get hooked up for electricity. Broadband connectivity is a promise Vermonters have heard before, first from Governor Jim Douglas and then as recently as last year.
"We are bound and determined to make the 2013 deadline and we will-- December 31, 2013," Gov. Peter Shumlin said in June 2012.
But with a month to go, Victory and a number of rural communities remain unconnected. Shumlin now says the important thing is that funding and plans are in place but that local squabbles over siting towers have been a problem.
"We have some issues that are beyond our control that are really driven by local community discussions that we wouldn't have anticipated. But listen, we're 99 percent there. We're going to get the 1 percent in 2014. We have solutions to all of them, they've been paid for, we've got the loot," said Shumlin, D-Vermont. "I would argue we will be the most connected state, rural state in America when we're done."
Rural development experts say that even after reaching the immediate connectivity goal, the need for higher and higher speeds in the next 5-10 years makes the idea of a broadband finish line sound obsolete.
In Victory, where it took until 1963 to flip a light switch, residents have their own priorities.
"I like it here. I like the town, I like my house, I like my husband," Neborsky said. "I just wish I had Internet that worked well."
Bumps in the information highway on the way to Victory.
VTel is the company expected to service Victory with wireless using more than $100 million in federal stimulus funds. Officials say they are working on their own timeline with a 2015 completion date. So far they are about halfway.
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