The answer to resolving Vermont's digital divide? Make all electric utilities deploy fiber.
That's the solution that Democratic candidate Christine Hallquist, former CEO of Vermont Electric Cooperative before resigning this year to run for governor, has suggested and plans to promote if elected, according to a recent article in the Burlington Free Press. (A review of Vermont Electric's 2018 plan or general website could find no sign of broadband services.)
Vermont taxpayers would not, however, reimburse the utilities. Power companies, which would be legally prevented from selling to consumers, could only wholesale their Internet connectivity to service providers, Hallquist told the Vermont newspaper.
"I think the electric utility providers are going to want to do it anyway," she told the Free Press. "So we'll make it a requirement, but youíre not going to get resistance from the electric utilities."
When four executives from electric coops presented a panel discussion during ADTRAN Connect, it was one of the most heartfelt press conferences I've ever attended. It definitely was one of the few times I've grown emotional hearing a conversation about broadband. Nobody in the room was unaffected. Everybody knew these gentlemen sincerely care about their members, their coops and bringing Internet connectivity to everybody in their footprint.
These executives also know they have a responsibility to their members to stay in business in order to continue providing power to these rural customers who otherwise will, most likely, be left alone for way longer than it otherwise would take.
It costs about $21,000 per mile to lay fiber in rural America, according to a June 2018 study conducted by Ericsson and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). How many miles is each utility expected to cover with fiber before it gets contracts with local cable operators, ISPs or telcos?
The intention is great: Most of us want high-speed broadband for all. But let's slow our roll and not demand that small utilities expend untold resources bringing a perhaps undesired service -- all at their own expense -- unless it's part of their business plan. It makes sense for many utilities. But not, necessarily, for all. And the governor is not the one who makes that decision.
— Alison Diana, Editor, Broadband World News. Follow us on Twitter or @alisoncdiana.