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Infrastructure package comes with $100M for Vt. broadband. Will it be enough?

Published: Nov. 17, 2021 at 5:43 PM EST
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FLETCHER, Vt. (WCAX) - Towns around Vermont are working together to get connected to the internet, and they will get a big boost from $100 million in the federal infrastructure bill.

“The kids can’t do their homework on the computer,” said Sarah Brown, who lives in a part of Fairfax without any internet connectivity. She says her kids have to go to their other parent’s houses in other towns to do their homework.

Brown says the service Consolidated Communications provides doesn’t reach her rural home. “It seems as though they have everything on the main drag, but when you go to the outskirts, it’s not there,” she said. Brown also works at the Fletcher General Store, which is connected, but... “It drops once a day at least, sometimes several times.”

Brown is one of the thousands of Vermonters without any connection, a problem that both state and private companies know all too well.

“We’re putting world-class infrastructure across Vermont and that infrastructure doesn’t exist today,” said Erik Garr with Consolidated Communications. He says they are launching Fidium Fiber, a new product they claim is a game-changer in high-speed internet. “We’re deploying all this infrastructure in Vermont. We’re closer and closer to those rural areas, so the problem we need to solve with our community partners is getting smaller.” Consolidated says it’s rolling out the service in 13 towns now but plans to expand throughout the state over the course of five years.

But the problem still lies in connecting Vermonters in the most rural areas. And that’s where communication union districts come into play. “We’re trying to work as closely as possible with private telecom providers, because we really -- if we tried to build out fiber to every address in Vermont with public funds -- it would probably be a billion dollars,” said Christine Hallquist, executive director of the Vermont Community Broadband Board.

The former gubernatorial candidate and Vermont Electric Cooperative CEO says most of the CUDs are in their pre-construction phase, with the goal of actual construction starting next summer.

For now, Vermonters like Brown will still be waiting, whether that’s for her CUD to connect her or for Consolidated to hook up her house. “It should be available to everyone. It shouldn’t be if you live here you can have it but if you live here you can’t,” she said.

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