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Committee members share telecom ideas

GUILFORD—Two members of Vernon’s Fiber Optics Committee visited their neighbors to the northwest to drum up interest in their proposed telecommunications project.

Munson Hicks and Bronna Zlochiver attended Guilford’s June 27 regular Selectboard meeting to present fiber optics as a possible, locally-owned source for high-speed Internet service.

The Fiber Optics Committee, formed in June 2015 as part of Vernon’s Economic Development Commission, has researched fiber-optics companies, and whether Vernon wants, and can support, this utility. [See “Town continues to explore fiber optics” in The Commons #332, Nov. 18, 2015]

“For a very modest amount, we can extend [fiber optics] to Algiers,” Hicks said, noting doing so would add about 65 buildings to the line.

In their presentation to the Board, Hicks and Zlochiver offered reasons they believe installing a fiber-optics line will benefit Vernon and its residents: the potential for jobs, increasing Vernon’s appeal as a place to live and work — especially for telecommuters and tech start-ups, upping property values, and improving schools.

Additionally, with fiber optics, the internet doesn’t experience what Hicks referred to as a “snow day” — when a multitude of users puts so much pressure on a system that it slows down everyone’s connection speed.

Hicks noted another benefit to the project: it won’t change the nature of the town, “the way, say, a gas plant would."

He offered his own story to illustrate a benefit of this project: local control. Although the committee may work with a New Jersey-based company to install the cable, and contract with another company to manage billing and service, ownership of the line would likely lie with the town, or a consortium of surrounding towns.

Because of his job, Hicks said, he needs connectivity with the rest of the world, and for him, that includes Comcast Internet, Direct TV, a landline, and two cellphones, which cost him about $300 per month.

“All that money goes to Texas, California, [and] North Carolina,” Hicks said. “If half of that money stayed here in town, that’s a significant change."

Selectboard member Gabrielle Ciufredda asked Hicks and Zlochiver about installation costs. Hicks said the cost is about $35,000-$40,000 per mile “to string it,” and to wire every home in Vernon will cost about $2.2 million.

Per state statute, Hicks said, no tax money can go toward the project.

The town would likely seek a revenue bond to fund installing the cable — Hicks said he thinks this is a good option because interest rates are so low. Subscribers would pay back the bond in their user fees. The town may seek grant money to pay for putting in the line, Hicks said, but grants won’t cover operation costs.

Cuifredda asked how many subscribers are required to make the project fiscally feasible; Zlochiver said six per each mile of fiber-optic cable.

Board member Gordon Little asked Hicks and Zlochiver if it was the committee’s goal to bring access to fiber-optic internet to every house in Vernon. Yes, Hicks said, “otherwise, you’re going to have neighbors mad at you” if some have fiber optics and some don’t.

“We shouldn’t be in competition for making our town better than yours,” Hicks said, adding, “if we can work out something together, that’s better.”

He also noted this project can provide a way for Vernon to be a good neighbor to surrounding towns.

He and Zlochiver invited any interested Guilford residents to attend their committee meetings, which occur on the final Monday of the month at 6:30 p.m. in the lower level of the Town Offices.

After some discussion with Town Administrator Katie Buckley about which body should participate — the Selectboard or the Planning Commission — the Board unanimously moved to direct Little and Board Chair Sheila Morse to support and investigate bringing fiber optics to Guilford, and to explore working with Vernon’s Fiber Optics Committee.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #366 (Wednesday, July 20, 2016).

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