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Vt. officials consider best use for millions in broadband funding

Published: Apr. 20, 2021 at 6:24 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Consolidated Communications has completed 5,000 network upgrades in Montpelier and Brattleboro, giving those communities faster and more reliable internet. But what about Vermonters who still have no reliable connection? Dom Amato found out how the state is planning to build out networks statewide.

“The pandemic has really brought broadband access to the forefront of the national conversation,” said Jeff Austin with Consolidated Communications.

He says the company has big plans for upgrading its service. By 2026, they plan to build out high-speed, symmetrical gigabit fiber that would bring the same upload and download speeds to more than 200,000 Vermont customers. “We’re proud to invest in the future of Vermont,” Austin said. Not only will it improve service, it allows the company to further upgrade its existing systems to meet the needs of customers for years to come. “We’re really building the fiber foundation.”

But at a time when 60,000 Vermont households are without any broadband, should companies be focused on improving service before expanding? “I think that both are important,” said Clay Purvis with the Vermont Department of Public Service. He says you can’t really compare the efforts, but that Consolidated’s privately-funded upgrades are happening in communities that already have good broadband and will compete with cable companies. It’s another option for consumers and also for businesses. “Consolidated said that they will cover more than 200,000 business locations. That’s significant. That’s two-thirds of the state.”

Consolidated, along with other private companies, may also have the chance to compete for public money to help expand broadband to every corner of Vermont. Purvis says discussions continue in the Legislature on how to spend the millions of COVID relief money. “I think given the amount of money on the table -- we’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars -- the state has an obligation to make sure those dollars are spent well and efficiently,” he said.

State lawmakers are also waiting for final guidance on exactly how they can spend the money, but they know it must be spent by 2024.

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