Get Vermonters Connected Now Initiative Disburses First Two Rounds of Grants

Last June's scaled-down Vermont’s Emergency Broadband Action Plan, intended as a fast-moving effort to connect residents in the Green Mountain State in the era of COVID, has seen its first two rounds disbursed since August. The Get Vermonters Connected Now Initiative has granted Internet Service Providers (ISPs) across the state a little under $8 million of its available $17 million budget to fund projects which will reach almost 7,500 locations by the end of the year. Of these, more than 3,000 did not have 4/1 Megabit per second (Mbps) service.

Round 1 Winners

The program is run by the Public Service Commission, which does not stipulate any match requirements and establishes 25/3 Mbps as the minimum speed for new services (though it does encourage grantees to aim for 100 Mbps symmetrical connections “where possible”). Community-owned networks are included in the list of winners.

The first round, announced at the end of August, totaled $3,926,650 to serve over 5,800 locations. Of them, the Commission notes, 2,200 lack a connection of 4/1 Megabits per second (Mbps), and 465 premises identified a specific telehealth, telework, or distance learning need related to the ongoing public health crisis. The full list of winners are:

  • $351,520 to Mansfield Community Fiber to extend fiber broadband to 676 locations and offset the customer costs for 10 locations
  • $171,770 to the NEW Alliance (Cloud Alliance and New England Wireless) to serve wireless broadband to 632 locations
  • $1,964,230 to VTel to serve wireless broadband to 3,992 location
  • $56,607 to Duncan Cable to extend fiber broadband to 35 locations
  • $152,500 to Comcast to extend cable broadband to 77 locations
  • $1,117,570 to ECFiber to extend fiber broadband to 394 locations
  • $112,453 to Waitsfield & Champlain Valley Telecom to extend fiber broadband to 26 locations

Round 2 Winners

The second round, just announced, totaled $3,991,847 in grant for 1,651 eligible locations. Of them, 804 lack a connection of 4/1 Mbps, and 150 identified a particular need for connectivity during the pandemic. The full list is:

  • $502,000 to ECFiber to extend its fiber network to reach 251 locations
  • $45,691 to Franklin Telephone to extend its fiber network to reach 24 locations
  • $762,662 to Wireless Partners to extend its wireless network to reach 668 locations
  • $142,939 to Spectrum (Charter) to extend its cable broadband service to reach 156 locations
  • $1,789,150 to Tilson to deploy a fiber network to reach 360 locations
  • $749,405 to Waitsfield and Champlain Valley Telecom to extend its fiber network to reach 192 locations

June Tierney, Commissioner of the Department of Public Service, told VT Digger:

As we move into the Fall Internet connectivity will be an even more important tool in combating the effects of the public health emergency.

A Multi-Prong Approach

Get Vermonters Connected Now was created by H966 [pdf], which passed on July 20th and which appropriated $231 million CARES money for broadband connectivity, housing, and economic relief. It established the Get Vermonters Connected Now Initiative, the COVID-Response Temporary Broadband Lifeline Program (a $2 million pot of money to provide subsidies to families in need to sustain Internet connectivity) and the COVID-Response Connected Community Resilience Program (an additional $800,000 to go towards the state’s Communications Union Districts (CUDs) for network deployment in anticipation of recovery efforts).

Notably, while towns across the state which have come together to form the CUDs have taken great strides in recent years to bring better connectivity to those in rural and unserved parts of the state (ECFiber connected its 4,000th customer less than a year ago), the Get Vermonters Connected Now Initiative allows projects to take place in CUDs over their objections. The lists of winners above show that while community-owned networks are busy using funds to expand fiber networks, Comcast and Charter Spectrum are using theirs to build out cable networks. 

Vermont has committed to achieving 100Mbps symmetrical service to all residents by 2024, and its original COVID-response action plan called for $45 million to fund network expansion to connect the tens of thousands of homes across the state which lack FCC-defined basic broadband. It currently ranks 47th in the nation.