DOVER—Dover continues its propulsion into the digital age with its participation in the e-Vermont Community Broadband Project.
According to VCRD e-Vermont Community Director Philip Petty, e-Vermont is a two-year federally funded initiative to help residents of particular communities use broadband “in new, different, and exciting ways.”
“Geographically, roughly half of Dover has access to some degree of HSIS [high-speed Internet service], and this is concentrated in the area of West Dover,” Economic Development Specialist Patrick Moreland said. “A majority of dwelling units are located in this area, but a great many year-round Dover residents live in East Dover, where no HSIS currently exists.”
The program won’t lay cable or string wires, but it will increase people’s skills so they can use the Internet to improve their communities through better education, civic engagement, and businesses.
“And a variety of other ways of using the Internet…to do good things in your community,” said Petty.
The first Windham County town selected to participate in e-Vermont, Dover joins Bridgewater, Calais, Castleton, Fairfield, Hardwick, Jay/Westfield, Middletown Springs, Moretown, Morristown, Richford, and Vergennes in the project managed by the Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD).
“Rural regions can’t be left behind in digital skills — we may be receiving high-speed Internet later than more urban areas, but we’re going to make up for lost time through programs like e-Vermont,” said e-Vermont Project Director Helen Labun Jordan.
e-Vermont does not provide infrastructure, such as fiber optic cables or wireless transmitters.
Infrastructure is definitely lacking in Dover, and improving high-speed Internet and cell phone service has been top of Dover’s economic development to-do list.
Portions of the town’s residential and business population are either underserved, or lack Internet and cell access altogether. Currently West Dover, where Mount Snow is located, has better Internet and cell coverage than East Dover.
Local business owner Tom Powell, who serves on Dover’s economic development advisory committee, said this lack has left many in town feeling frustrated. He said a digital divide exists between East and West Dover.
According to Laura Sibilia, executive director of the Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce, one-quarter of Dover residents are year-round, while three-quarters of the population are second homeowners.
But, she said, the community-oriented programs offered through e-Vermont may help bridge the two communities.
“When it comes [high-speed Internet], we’ll be ready,” Sibilia said.
The town’s e-Vermont application, submitted by Moreland, stated, “We know now is the time to begin building new skills and establishing new pathways for communication to enrich our community and our economy in the years to come.”
The town is working separately with Internet providers like FairPoint Communications and Sovernet to bring broadband to underserved areas homes and businesses. The existing service in West Dover is provided by FairPoint or by Duncan Cable of Wilmington.
A variety of services
VCRD is partnering with six organizations to provide training and assist Dover as it develops new projects.
Digital Wish, a nonprofit with headquarters in Manchester Center, puts technology into the hands of K-12 students. It will provide training to teachers at Dover Elementary School, along with 50 Dell notebook computers and copier/scanner/printer machines f0r use by Dover students in grades 4-6.
Front Porch Forum is a townwide Internet-based forum geared to connecting neighbors. A Burlington couple designed the site so community members could discuss and share events specific to their town.
Vermont Small Business Development Center and Vermont State Colleges will offer workshops for community members. VtSBDC will also offer one-one-one business advising.
The Snelling Center for Government is on board to help towns improve their municipal websites.
The Vermont Department of Libraries with work with the Dover Free Library to assess digital needs. The library will have access to $2,000 to $4,000 mini-grants to help meet such needs as equipment or staff training.
Petty said Dover will be able to develop its own programs, and that VCRD might suggest additional projects. Dover will need to have finalized digital projects list to VCRD by June 1, he noted.
“Your projects will develop due to the work you do in the next several months,” Petty told members of the economic development committee at a meeting last week.
A public forum about the e-Vermont projects will most likely take place in April. More information will be forthcoming.
Petty said broadband may still not come quickly to all parts of Dover, but through the efforts of the incoming Shumlin administration, and other projects in the state, the town will benefit.
He said southern Vermont has had its share of disappointment in receiving high-speed Internet access.
But “I personally think this time is different,” he noted.
To learn more about e-Vermont, visit e4vt.org.