Broadband grants to help get more Vermonters connected

Published: Nov. 1, 2021 at 3:41 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The effort to connect Vermont continues and this time some federal money is helping the state’s broadband initiative. Almost $10 million is being given to four of the nine communication union districts-- or CUDS-- to use for pre-construction activities in their respective areas.

Twenty percent of Vermont does not have access to adequate broadband and the goal of this federal funding is to help pay for business planning, pole surveys and engineering, with the goal of construction beginning in the spring.

“Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough people on my route to make it worth it for them, so I ended up having to pay $3,700 out of pocket for high-speed internet,” said Christopher Cota of Fairfax.

Cota’s experience is common in Vermont, especially in the Northwest region, having to pivot around large corporations’ policies just to get connected online.

“If I didn’t have that by the time the pandemic came around I probably would have been without a job,” Cota said.

Stu McGowan relates to this problem when he’s at his Alburgh home that’s especially rural compared to others in the area.

“Some people up in Alburgh get Comcast, good connection. I don’t. They don’t come there,” McGowan said.

McGowan says he’s forced to use a hotspot to work from home, and if he doesn’t, the Wi-Fi plan he has is unreliable.

Cota and McGowan are residents of the Northwest Communications Union District, where Executive Director Sean Kio says 48% of the residents in the 20 towns they cover are undeserved.

“Every day I hear phone calls from folks just trying to get online, how to answer emails, how to make phone calls-- kids, school administrators-- how do we get access to kids who don’t have access?” Kio said.

NWCUD is one of four communication union districts receiving funding Monday. They’re getting around $600,000.

Christine Hallquist, the executive director of the Vermont Community Broadband Board, says the goal is to get every home in Vermont connected to adequate broadband in five years. To do so, Hallquist says they’re working with the Department of Labor and the state university system to figure out how to keep workers during a labor shortage and will be pre-purchasing materials to avoid problems due to a material shortage.

“Stay focused, make sure construction crews are busy every day, make sure material flows-- it’s all about good project planning,” Hallquist said.

“We’re slowly getting there but ideally we’ll continue this work and be there, as Christine said, in five years 100% of homes in our district will be served,” Kio said.

As for the other five communication union districts, Hallquist says she anticipates giving grants as the applications come in.

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