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Town continues to explore fiber optics

VERNON—Vernon’s Fiber Optic Committee, formed in June 2015 as part of the town’s Planning Commission, continues its research into whether Vernon wants, and can support, a fiber optic network to provide the town with high-speed Internet.

At the October 19 regular Selectboard meeting, Bronna Zlochiver, who serves on the committee, provided an update on its progress.

She said the committee recently met with Ron Cassel, CEO of East Hanover, N.J.-based Millennium Communications Group, to discuss his company’s experience installing and managing fiber optic networks in “underserved areas.” The committee plans to have additional meetings with Cassel.

One option Cassel presented was for Vernon to form a multi-town consortium to split the cost of building the network. Because the consortium can cross state lines, Zlochiver and some board members thought it would be worthwhile to contact officials in Hinsdale, N.H., and Bernardston, Mass., to gauge their interest.

Some of the details Zlochiver provided — with input from board member Mike Courtemanche, who also serves on the Fiber Optic Committee — included cost and subscription requirements.

With the plan Cassel recommended for Vernon, the cost of building the network would be $30,000 per mile of line, or about $1.5 million total.

To make the project cost-effective, at least six homes per mile would need to sign on — or, about 150 homes. With an average of 37 homes per mile of road along Vernon’s 25 miles of roads, Zlochiver calculated less than 25 percent of Vernon homes would need to participate.

She said she does not see a problem with achieving that number, “especially with the younger families coming into town.”

Neither Zlochiver nor Courtemanche could provide exact subscription costs for the fiber optic network, but they provided some comparisons and estimates. Zlochiver said Comcast charges approximately $70 per month for Internet-only service. She said she received information from ValleyNet about an established fiber optic network in central Vermont, and those customers are paying about $25 per month for Internet.

The committee’s next step is gauging interest among townspeople. Zlochiver and Courtemanche both suggested smaller meetings rather than a larger public forum.

“The smaller the group, the easier it is to answer questions,” Courtemanche said, noting the technology is new to many people.

“Cable is dying,” Courtemanche said, adding, “soon it won’t be profitable.” He said, regardless of age, people’s bandwidth needs are increasing, and “fiber [optic] in the home is going to facilitate that.”

Courtemanche said Comcast’s current top download speed is 56 megabytes per second, but fiber optic networks “are going to offer you gigabytes. It’s exponentially faster.”

“If we want to attract young people” and small businesses to Vernon, Zlochiver said, “we need this."

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Originally published in The Commons issue #332 (Wednesday, November 18, 2015). This story appeared on page E1.

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