Company brings better broadband to the Northeast Kingdom

Published: Oct. 10, 2021 at 5:38 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 10, 2021 at 7:06 PM EDT
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EAST BURKE, Vt. (WCAX) - In a world where Zoom meetings reign supreme and the option of remote learning looms, Vermonters need to stay connected. But, in the second least-populated state in the country separated by farmland, only 77.3% of Vermonters are served with adequate broadband.

One local broadband company hopes to help change that.

“I know a lot of people here, they’re frustrated as much as we are,” said Donald Timson of Sutton.

Before Timson’s house got hooked up to Northern Connection’s wireless service, he and his partner went without Wi-Fi for months.

“Being in this area, even my cellphone I only get two bars. So, I can watch things, but I have to be close to a window to get it,” said Timson.

Now, the Sutton resident is back on the grid.

Northern Connections, which just acquired Kingdom Connection, covers 460 square miles of the Northeast Kingdom. On Sunday, the company revamped its tower on the top of Burke Mountain to increase the capacity and speed of its service.

“We can put up a tower and establish a very similar kind of connection to people at a 360-degree radius at where we’re broadcasting,” said Ryan Somerfield, one of the partners and managing members of Northern Connections.

One of the changes being made Sunday was the installation of 4 RF Element horns. The horns provide more efficient wireless internet all through the area, more so than the antennas that are already there. And the more horns the better, so four is a pretty good start.

Somerfield says these changes will give customers a 40 megabit internet plan meant for multiple-person households. He says the goal is to eventually offer 80 and 100 megabit plans.

“Broadband is evolving, the use of broadband is evolving. People stream and watch movies, and at the height of the pandemic, people are remote learning,” said Somerfield.

Somerfield says the company has hundreds of customers and projects that number will double within a year if they expand service in Essex and Orleans counties.

“Those towns are undeserved and the hollows of Burke, and as you get up to Barton there’s just nothing there. Our goal is to really expand this network and be able to make it an option to more people,” said Somerfield.

Somerfield says larger corporations tend to shy away from the less-populated areas of Vermont.

“The infrastructure’s just not here because there’s not enough money to be made from it. That’s really what it comes down to,” said Somerfield.

As a customer, Timson argues the Scott administration needs to give those companies incentives.

“All this money keeps coming into the state to improve the internet service broadband, but they’re not expanding their footprint. They’re staying right where they are,” said Timson.

Somerfield says Northern Connections hasn’t received CARES Act funding but he argues that investment from the state would be worthwhile.

“If the state or the federal government opened up more grant money, wireless internet providers, not just us, but there’s so many of them that exist in this country. We’d be able to provide more internet to people faster and for cheaper,” said Somerfield.

For now, hundreds of Northeast Kingdom residents will benefit from faster internet speeds thanks to the improved tower.

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