Vermont's House of Representatives this week passed a bill funding small and startup high-speed broadband providers to bring services to many unconnected rural residents or the underserved populace, at least some of whom still connect via modems from the age of "You've Got Mail."
"Some of them, they're on dial up; I mean they're literally still on dial up. So, you know, can you imagine?" Rep. Laura Sibilia, (I-West Dover), told WCAX. Some constituents use their copper phone lines for Internet connections, she said. "The last mile is becoming more and more vulnerable. They're more and more reliant on these telephone lines," Sibilia added.
Government at Work: Constructing Connections
Inside the state government's building, legislators are working hard to encourage local and startup operators to deliver broadband services to rural residents of Vermont. (Image Source: Wikipedia)
The legislation will help bring broadband Internet to about 17,000 Vermont residents who lack basic Internet access outside dial-up, the AP reported. But the state is home to about 50,000 other individuals whose online connection does not meet the Federal Communications Commission's standard of broadband (25 Mbps up/10 Mbps down), said Vermont Public Radio.
Under the Broadband Expansion Bill, municipalities, utilities, startups and local operators can apply for $1.5 million in grants and low-interest loans, available in fiscal-year 2020. The bill, which passed on a vote of 139-2, now faces a Senate vote.
"Access to high-speed broadband service is a fundamental requirement for growing our rural economy," said Energy and Technology Committee Chair, Rep. Tim Briglin (D-Thetford). "If we are serious about creating a Vermont that works for everyone, we must empower communities with the tools they need to solve deficiencies in broadband connectivity."
Funds will be split across three areas of need, added House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero), reported VermontBiz. The Broadband Innovation Grant Program, Connectivity Initiative grants and more funding for the Department of Public Service are intended to bring Internet connectivity to unserved Vermonters, she said. In the past, for example, the public-service agency gave ECFiber $72,500 to bring fiber-based service to 31 homes and businesses; Consolidated Communications received $175,000 to expand broadband to 162 residential and SMB customers, and Comcast received $300,000 to deliver broadband cable to 114 new thresholds.
Other financing includes more than $3.5 million in federal grants for Vermont's Broadband Initiative through the Vermont Center for Geographic Information; more than $45 million (accounting for 1.3% of total federal infrastructure grants) toward broadband infrastructure projects in the state, and improvement in wired connection of at least 10mbps has improved from 89.4% to 97.9% of Vermonters since 2011, according to BroadbandNow.
In fact, Vermont is the 29th most-connected state, BroadbandNow reports, basing its statistics on data provided by the FCC, NTIA and multiple vendor research reports from 2017. This, again, underscores the challenge of determining where funding should go since there is no singular, all-inclusive and verifiable national broadband map.
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