In March, we reported on the formation of Deerfield Valley Communications Union District in Vermont.
That same month, communities in different parts of the state also formed two other communications union districts (CUDs) to improve their local connectivity. Voters in dozens of towns approved the formation of Northeast Kingdom CUD and Southern Vermont CUD during Vermont’s Town Meeting Day on March 3. The two new CUDs are currently undertaking feasibility studies and hope to take advantage of federal and state funding — including through Vermont’s new — to deploy Fiber-to-the-Home networks to all region residents and businesses.
Northeast Kingdom CUD is currently made up of 27 towns in the counties of Caledonia, Essex, and Orleans. The group’s FAQ explains that the district’s goal is to “bring a reliable and affordable, high-speed Internet option (at least 100 mbps symmetrical) to every residential and business e911 address in the Northeast Kingdom. According to VTDigger, the participating communities are in some of the most underserved counties in Vermont.
On the other end of the state, the Southern Vermont CUD is comprised of 12 member towns, all in Bennington County. The fact that all of the towns voted to join the CUD doesn’t surprise local officials, who are familiar with residents’ desire for better connectivity. “I had heard next to no negative comments about the CUD, and mostly people who are really anxious to see their internet situation improve,” Tim Scoggins, Southern Vermont CUD Governing Board Chair and Shaftsbury Selectboard Chair, told the Bennington Banner.
Both of the new CUDs plan to conduct feasibility studies and create business plans using funding from the state’s Broadband Innovation Grant Program. When it comes to deploying their networks, the two entities hope to tap into federal and state funds to finance construction. “The funding is going to remain the biggest challenge for the CUDs moving forward,” said Clay Purvis, Director of Telecommunications at the Vermont Department of Public Service.
Northeast Kingdom CUD and Southern Vermont CUD join three other districts in the state: Central Vermont Fiber, ECFiber, and Deerfield Valley CUD. The CUD structure allows communities to unite their efforts and better attract funding. Purvis explained to VTDigger:
It makes these kind of rag-tag groups of towns into something that is more sophisticated . . . So when the time comes to seek funding, whether it’s in the private market or from the state of Vermont or the federal government, they look much more sophisticated.
Old Problems, New Urgency
The importance of finding local solutions to poor, unreliable, and expensive connectivity is even more apparent as Vermont communities struggle to overcome the spread of the novel coronavirus. “More than ever we need to figure out a solution for a pandemic or any other scenario that may come up where we have to rely on Internet to keep our businesses and our lives moving forward,” Evan Carlson, Board Chair of Northeast Kingdom CUD, told a local news station.
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the lack of universal Internet access throughout the state, Vermont has drafted an Emergency Broadband Action Plan [pdf] that lays out how the state could connect unserved residents during and after the crisis. The proposal includes immediate steps to extend Internet access during the pandemic as well as a plan to bring broadband access to all Vermonters. Achieving universal access in the state would involve funding new broadband deployment as well as supporting CUDs in their efforts to tap into federal grant programs.
Download the Emergency Broadband Action Plan below, and check back for future MuniNetworks.org coverage of the state’s plan under the “Vermont” tag.