Lamoille talks broadband


On Feb 27 residents from Belvidere, Eden, Wolcott, Waterville, Hyde Park, Cambridge and Johnson were scheduled to meet to discuss Communication Union Districts (CUDs,) a way in which the municipalities might band together to cable their towns for high-speed broadband internet.

A strong snowstorm blew through Lamoille that evening, so many attendees stayed home.
Three presenters from across Vermont were slated to explain the model of Communication Union Districts through the EC Fiber model, which has been successful in helping central Vermonters with internet.

Rural Broadband Technology Assistance Specialist from the Department of Public Service Rob Fish presented first, showing just how little high-speed internet each town in Lamoille has.
The goal of rural broadband is to get every resident served to 100/100, meaning 100 mbps upload and download speeds.

“This is a community effort,” Fish said. “It’s all hands on deck.”

Johnson’s cable coverage is some of the best in the county. 73% of Johnson residents have cable, which is defined as 25 mbps download and 3 mbps upload. Only 55% of the county has 25/3. Currently, only 3.6% of Lamoille County residents have 100/100, and are all located in Cambridge, Stowe or Morrisville.
Eden by far has the worst coverage, with no residents at 100/100, 16.7% at 25/3 or better, and 72.6% at 4/1. Anything slower than 4/1 is considered “unserved,” as most modern computers can’t function with slower speeds. More than 27 percent of Eden is unserved.

“Broadband is expensive and complicated,” said Fish.

Forming a CUD means that these small towns can band together and work with a fiber company to get broadband to their residents. Smallest towns like Belvidere benefit from these immensely, because they otherwise would not be able to afford the whole process.

Chris Campbell, from Tilson Technology management, explained exactly what CUDs have the power to do.

They can own and operate their communications plant and provide communications services. They can seek and accept grants, but they cannot tax property or accept money from taxes.

To join or form a CUD, each municipality must vote at Town Meeting or at a special meeting, and then elect one person to the board of the CUD. Each town gets one vote in matters of the board.

Campbell also mentioned REDI Districts (pronounced “ready”) which stands for Rural Economic Development Infrastructure. These may contain only part of a municipality, where as a CUD would contain the whole. They can also branch out into other infrastructure and don’t just concern broadband.
In both, it isn’t predetermined who owns the infrastructure that is built out. In some cases, a public-private partnership could help the municipalities with maintenance and repair of the fiber buildout.
Part of the advantages of a CUD is that it serves the most underserved first. Residents who don’t have internet at all would be the first to access the high-speed broadband.

The EC fiber model, also known as the East Central Vermont Telecommunications District, has built over 1000 miles of fiber with over 4300 customers.

In the EC fiber model, they have about 6 customers per mile. It cost about $30,000 per mile to build. At this time, buildout would take approximately two “construction seasons,” May to September.