Local News

Speedy broadband spreads to more rural communities; $900,000 invested

By Stephen Seitz

Last week, Gov. Peter Shumlin announced about $900,000 to speed up broadband service in a number of Vermont towns, including Rochester, Pittsfield, Norwich, Randolph, Royalton, Jamaica, Reading and Bradford.

Rochester Town Clerk JoAnne McDonnell said, “It’s the first we’ve heard of it. In town, we have Comcast, but other people have different service outside of town.”

According to the statement announcing the grants, Shumlin said, “I’m proud that we have reached near universal broadband coverage in this state in the last four years. Now our focus has to turn to improving the infrastructure we have rolled out so that it keeps pace with the changing needs of a 21st century economy. That means boosting broadband speeds, and these grants will do that in some of the hardest to reach Vermont towns.”

The grant will be split three ways. ECFiber will receive $354,000 for Norwich, Pittsfield, Randolph, and Royalton. FairPoint will receive $290,000 to serve addresses in Reading and Bradford, and Comcast will receive $230,640 to serve addresses in Norwich, Jamaica, and Rochester. In total, the funds will serve 175 underserved addresses in these areas and will also bring better service to additional locations.

Comcast sent a statement via e-mail.

“Comcast is proud to partner with the state of Vermont to expand our advanced broadband network to underserved areas that previously had no access to broadband and to help make the state’s broadband goals a reality,” said Mary McLaughlin, senior vice president of Comcast’s Western New England Region, which includes Vermont. “This extension of our network allows more and more residents in these rural communities to have access to our cutting-edge Xfinity products and services, including Xfinity Internet, TV and Voice.”

Beth Fastaggi, FairPoint state president for Vermont, explained what they plan to do.

“We’ll be adding new fiberoptic cable and new electronic equipment,” she said. “The system will use the existing lines to the houses, but the fiberoptic cable will make it go faster. To get better broadband service, you have to bring it closer to the customer.”

Fastaggi said that awarding the grants is just the first step. The FairPoint grant, she said, would upgrade 55 underserved locations.

“We’ll still have to work with the state, and there’s no signed contract yet,” she said.

According to a written statement, Christopher Rechhia, Commissioner of the Department of Public Service, said, “The great thing about these awards is that we are taking these underserved addresses and ‘leap-frogging’ their speeds from among the slowest, to among the fastest available – that will serve these most difficult sites for many years into the future. This will be the Department’s objective in our future work as funds become available.”

The money for these grants comes through the Connectivity Initiative, which Gov. Shumlin signed into law last year to expand rural broadband networks. These grants represent the first round of funding.  The eight communities receiving the upgrades were chosen because the Department of Public Service considers them to be among the hardest locations to serve.

Under the legislation, Act 190, the Department of Public Service is required to publish a list of zones called “census blocks” eligible for funding. The number of underserved locations is listed by county. According to this year’s list, Rutland County has 165 underserved locations, while Windsor County has 229.

“The addresses are included in the request for proposal,” Fastaggi said.

For more information, visit the Connectivity page at publicservice.vermont.gov.

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