New broadband union could get more Vermonters connected to the internet

Published: Aug. 6, 2020 at 6:09 PM EDT
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ENOSBURGH, Vt. (WCAX) - During the pandemic, many people rely on the internet for telemedicine, work or schools. But as many Vermonters know, connecting to the internet isn't easy in some parts of the state. Our Elissa Borden discovered that might change for parts of Franklin and Grand Isle counties.

Right now, studies show that 11% of homes in Enosburgh have poor connectivity, meaning they fall below the FCC standard of 25 to 30 megabits per second. But in a few years, that number may be as low as 3%.

With the newly formed Northwest Vermont Communications Union District, towns can borrow money or apply for grants and loans to install fiber network connections to areas in need. Residents in Enosburgh, Georgia, Fairfax and Montgomery may soon see a difference in their connections.

Katrina Antonovich of Fairfax is one of those residents living in an internet gap.

"It's very frustrating," she said. "Comcast is 1,900 feet down the road from us and fiber is half a mile up the road from us and neither one of them are coming to our house."

She goes to the Fairfax community library to do work sometimes because the internet in her house isn't enough to upload pictures.

As a teacher herself with school-aged children, online classes become a challenge when you lack a connection.

"We had to create a schedule for our internet and classes this spring with four of us at home and in school, so we had to create a schedule so each one of us could be online at a time," Antonovich said.

Sean Kio is the chairman of the newly formed broadband union and he thinks it shouldn't be that way.

"Kind of hearing stories or similar stories about broadband in other communities and their struggles, whether it's the school districts having difficulties getting kids connected who don't have connectivity at home, or it's remote workers like myself who periodically work from home," Kio said.

Kio says the broadband union is still in its beginning stages, conducting studies, holding meetings and securing funding to create a feasible business plan.

The project is so early on, there's no set budget and no set timeline, though he hopes to have customers online in three to four years.

In the meantime, Kio hopes to expand the project, not just to get people online but to give them more variation across internet service providers.

"The more communities we have, then the more potential customers down the road that we may have," he said. "It makes it more of a viable business case and it makes us more attractive for potential funders and grant opportunities."

And the number of towns in the union could grow! Sheldon, Berkshire, Fairfield, Alburgh and Highgate are all set to decide on whether or not they’d like to join in the coming weeks.

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