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Bi-Town Economic Development efforts move broadband plans forward in the Deerfield Valley

DOVER—At a joint meeting of the Dover and Wilmington Selectboards, Bi-Town Economic Development Planner Bill Colvin and Dover Economic Specialist Patrick Moreland both said progress is being made on improving broadband and cell service in the Deerfield Valley.

“There’s a lot of moving parts,” said Colvin during his quarterly presentation to the boards.

The Dover and Wilmington Selectboards tasked Colvin and Moreland with improving cell phone and broadband or high-speed Internet access in the valley. It is goal number one for Colvin, hired as the Bi-Town Economic Development Planner early autumn.

According Colvin and Moreland, some areas of the valley are covered by carriers on towers at Mount Snow and Haystack ski areas and in downtown Wilmington. Duncan Cable and FairPoint Communications also cover portions of the valley.

According to documents handed out at the meeting, the cellular coverage can be “spotty even in a community that a carrier identifies as covered.” Additionally, standards for high-speed Internet are increasingly adding to the ever-changing telecommunications landscape.

VTel’s Wireless Open World (WOW), if successful, would connect every un-served home and business in rural Vermont to 4G/LTE wireless broadband.  East Dover and portions of Wilmington fall into WOW’s un-served category.

Vermont FiberConnect, a collaboration of the Vermont Telecommunications Authority (VTA) and Sovernet, will connect over 340 “community anchor institutions” via a 773 “fiber-optic middle mile network.” This program would serve educational and library facilities in the valley.

FairPoint Communications’ Backroads Broadband program, originally expected to provide increased service and coverage to East Dover, has gone back to the VTA for financial support after issues with language in the first version that allowed Backroads Broadband to erroneously skirt areas already covered by federal programs.

AT&T and Earth Tone Technologies have also announced upgrades. Earth Tone, a Massachusetts cell tower site acquisition and development company, is evaluating new tower sites in both towns with possible “synergy” with VTel’s WOW.

Earth Tone’s development plan would “significantly enhance coverage,” said Moreland pointing out that 2009 was the first year that data transmissions exceeded telephone transmissions.

Colvin advised the boards that with this many projects and changes on the horizon, it was best to wait a little for the “moving parts to percolate a bit.” He said there was no rush to hook the towns’ wagon to a single project or provider.

Colvin asked the boards authorize him to develop a long-range telecommunications strategy in partnership with Moreland.

Wilmington Selectboard Clerk Margaret Streeter thanked Colvin for his work, adding she finally had a picture of all the projects in the works.

The FCC’s basic high-speed standards of 1 megabytes per second upload and 4 megabytes per second download should be pursued as standard for every home and business in the two towns. But, recommended Colvin, the towns should also look ahead preparing for expansion considering,  “the business park of the 21st century may not be located anywhere specific, but rather may occur wherever telecommunication capacity is plentiful.”

With the boards’ blessings, Colvin said he recommended that he pursue private and public funding opportunities for expanding telecommunication services, engaging the legislative delegation’s support “where necessary to facilitate expanded broadband wand wireless access in Dover and Wilmington.”

Also, said Colvin, he would develop a time-line and implementation strategy by September 2011.

State Rep. Ann Manwaring, D-Wilmington, told Colvin and Moreland to remember as they worked with the telecommunication companies awarded public monies, “that money is ours and not theirs.”

Based on conversations with the Wilmington School Board, Colvin suggested the implementation of a “business incubator.” He said the idea is still in its “infancy,” but it could be structured as a nonprofit or operated in conjunction with an institution of higher education.

Colvin told the selectboards that despite the Tri-Town Economic Development Committee, which includes Whitingham, achieving its original charge that “now seems to be an opportune time to evaluate the direction of this group and consider how best to reconstitute it.”

“Regardless of the structure….I think it may be valuable to have some group in addition to the town selectboards to serve as a sounding board and collector and disseminator of information in pursuit of our goals,” said Colvin.

Wilmington Selectboard member James Burke said, “You can hit the ground running but you guys hit the ground running, and didn’t stumble. Stay the course.”

The boards voted in favor of Colvin’s recommendations.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #77 (Wednesday, November 24, 2010).

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