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Vermont’s nascent Communication Union Districts (CUD) are pioneering creative efforts to deploy affordable broadband to the rural parts of the Green Mountain State. That includes the Lamoille FiberNet CUD, which has greenlit a major new plan to expand affordable access to fiber in the most neglected parts of rural Vermont.
At an Aug. 14th meeting, the Vermont Community Broadband Board (VCBB) approved Lamoille FiberNet’s $1.3 million pre-construction grant, followed by a mid-September approval of the CUD’s $13.6 million construction grant.
“This grant means that, by the end of 2024, we can bring high-speed internet to almost all the homes and businesses in our CUD that are unserved or underserved,” Lamoille FiberNet Communications CUD Chair Jeff Tilton said in a statement.
With the Lamoille CUD covering 10 towns in the north central part of the state (Belvidere, Cambridge, Eden, Elmore, Hyde Park, Johnson, Morristown, Stowe, Waterville and Wolcott), Lamoille plans to have Fidium Fiber and Consolidated Communications deploy and manage 630 miles of new fiber connecting more than 4,800 unserved and underserved Lamoille County homes and businesses. The network will be deployed in two phases.
It was a big week for ECFiber as Vermont’s first – and oldest – Communication Union District (CUD) celebrated lighting up the last hub of its 1,500 mile-network in White River Junction.
To mark the occasion of connecting the “golden patch cord” that will extend high-speed Internet service to eight more communities in the Upper Valley region, White River Junction’s VFW Hall was packed this past Tuesday with CUD officials, local and state leaders, enthusiastic residents, and U.S. Sen. Peter Welch. They were there to celebrate what ECFiber officials liken to “the Golden Spike moment tying the first transcontinental railroad together.”
After a 30-piece band played marching tunes, ECFiber Chairman F.X. Flinn marched to the podium to describe the meaning of the moment.
"It’s come to fruition today with a lighting of the White River Junction hub," he said. "This is the last piece of the puzzle for the network we originally envisioned that would bring world-class broadband to every home and business in the 23 member towns that originally voted town meeting day 2008 to create ECFiber."
Sen. Welch, an ECFiber subscriber who also spoke at the event, credited the state’s community broadband approach as the linchpin to solving the state’s digital divide:
“If we in rural Vermont were going to depend on the big telecommunication companies to wire our homes and get us Internet, we’d be waiting until our grandchildren had grandchildren. It wasn’t going to happen.”
Eight More Towns Join CUD
NEK Broadband Gets $17.5 Million Boost as Vermont CUDs Continue Charge Toward Statewide Broadband Access
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded a $17.5 million grant to NEK Community Broadband (NEK Broadband), providing another shot in the arm for Vermont’s fast-growing collection of Communications Union Districts (CUDs). Such CUDs continue to play a starring role in Vermont’s efforts to finally conquer the digital divide.
NEK Broadband’s latest grant comes from the USDA’s ReConnect Loan & Grant Program, which helps defray the costs of network hardware and broadband deployment to rural and traditionally underserved U.S. markets.
The program this week doled out an additional $714 million in grants and loans to projects across 19 states.
NEK Broadband officials say its $17.5 million award will be combined with a $5.8 million investment to deliver affordable fiber access to 3,295 homes, 94 businesses, 183 farms and 11 educational facilities across 22 towns in Orleans, Caledonia, and Essex counties in Vermont.
“For too long, large pockets of our state have been denied this critical resource because companies haven’t found it profitable enough to invest,” Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said in an announcement of NEK’s latest grant. “This federal funding is transformative, because the money is going directly to the very communities who will benefit, instead of having to go through those who care more about profits than delivering service.”
It's December, which means it's time to pull the staff together and get a handle on what happened in the broadband landscape in 2022. Joining Christopher is GIS and Data Visualization Specialist Christine Parker, Associate Researcher Emma Gautier, Outreach Team Lead DeAnne Cuellar, Senior Reporter and Communications Team Lead Sean Gonsalves, and Senior Researcher and Research Team Lead Ry Marcattilio.
Fitting all of those titles into one recording studio was a real project, but it led to a constructive conversation about preemption laws, the broadband nutrition label, BEAD funding and the new Broadband Data Collection (BDC) process, the supply chain, and more. There were a couple of surprises in 2022, and the staff reckons with how their predictions from last year held up in the face of things.
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NEK Broadband has been awarded a $16 million grant by the Vermont Community Broadband Board (VCBB) to expand fiber access to 10 new Vermont communities. It’s among the earliest of what is likely to be a flurry of activity by the mostly-newly created Communications Union Districts - partnerships between rural cities and towns - which have formed over the last few years to solve the connectivity crisis for the tens of thousands of Vermonters who have been left behind by the current broadband marketplace.
A New Approach
Vermont’s broadband policy leaders say they plan to embrace CUDs as the primary avenue by which they hope to bridge the state’s long standing digital divide. A significant portion of the state’s $150 million broadband package will be funneled toward CUDs in a state where 85 percent of municipalities and 90 percent of underserved locations fall within a CUD.
The formation of most of the state’s CUDs is relatively new, though the most veteran example (EC Fiber) formed more than fifteen years ago. After years of persistence by EC Fiber, determined progress, and attitudinal changes in policy at the state level, CUDs now sit at the heart of the state’s rural broadband efforts.
With nearly 65,000 households unable to connect to the Internet at basic broadband speeds of 25/3 Megabits per second (Mbps), municipalities across the Green Mountain State have risen to the fore in formulating creative models for addressing the tens of thousands of homes without broadband access. Iterating on the EC Fiber (with roots back to the early 2000s), joint, municipally led projects have led to the creation of a total of nine Communications Union Districts (CUDs) at present, which places community-owned broadband at the forefront in Vermont.
What’s equally exciting is that the state has likewise stepped up, calling the CUDs the primary avenue by which it will solve the state’s connectivity crisis, and funneling at least $116 million in their direction in the next handful of years, with much of this spending dedicated to CUDs. To date, nearly 85 percent of Vermont’s municipalities and 90 percent of its underserved locations fall within a CUD.