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VTel to expand wireless 4G service to Windham County by Nov. 2012

VTDigger’s Anne Galloway and Taylor Dobbs contributed to this report.

—The Vermont Telecommunications Authority (VTA) and VTel Wireless have reached an agreement to provide broadband accessibility within the towns of Newfane, Westminster, Stratton, and Wardsboro by November 2012.Equipment installed to service those four communities will also provide expanded broadband coverage to areas within the towns of Putney, Townshend, and Dummerston by November, according to the VTA.More than 1,600 addresses will have access to fourth-generation (4G) wireless broadband service, according to the VTA. It will provide broadband service that supports the delivery of services with an upload speed of at least one megabit per second and combined download and upload speeds equal to or greater than five megabits per second.In March, 2011 the Vermont Telecommunications Authority (VTA) announced its intent to award the $2,065,000 grant to VTel Wireless to provide broadband in unserved areas in southern Vermont through its Backroads Broadband Program.This week’s announcement signals the finalization of the agreement between the state authority and the Springfield-based company. The grant funding was made available through a state appropriation in the Vermont Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2010.“This project will address gaps in broadband service in southeast Vermont that would be very difficult to reach without state assistance.” said VTA Executive Director Christopher Campbell. “The communities included within the project will benefit from a leading-edge fourth-generation wireless broadband network.”Availability of the VTel service in the selected target communities also will support the marriage between broadband infrastructure and SmartGrid by expanding infrastructure Vermont electric utilities will be able to use when communicating with smart meters.Recently, Green Mountain Power and Central Vermont Public Service finalized an agreement with VTel to use its network to transmit data between homes and businesses and the electric utility companies.The SmartGrid project calls for the installation of 250,000 high-tech meters in Vermont households that will automatically collect detailed information about household or business usage habits. Consumers can use this data to better control their energy usage.VTel will receive an additional $6.2 million from the two electric utilities to build 4G wireless towers in remote parts of the state which don’t currently receive Internet access; the utilities will get complete coverage in the difficult-to-serve “middle mile,” or most rural pockets, of the state.In August 2010, VTel Wireless was awarded a federal stimulus grant and loans through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) to build a wireless broadband network that will provide 4G wireless broadband service to wide areas of Vermont.While the RUS project will greatly increase the number of rural Vermont homes which will be able to get broadband service, the network will not cover all unserved locations. The VTA grant to VTel Wireless will be used to fund equipment to extend the new broadband service into adjacent unserved areas.The VTA-funded facilities will also increase available broadband speeds available around the newly funded facilities.VTel’s $135 million project to expand broadband to under- and unserved rural areas of Vermont is slated for completion in 2013. Michel Guite, CEO of VTel, said the Vermont project will be using cutting-edge technology that is unique in the United States and is of an international caliber.Guite wouldn’t say how many new households his company has extended service to so far; the project he said is still in the permitting phase.“We’re ahead of schedule,” he said.Construction will begin in the next several months. VTel is seeking permits for about 100 towers right now, he said.Campbell said in June that the Shumlin administration’s goal of providing universal broadband service is on schedule, thanks to about $150 million in federal funding that has been made available to expand access in underserved areas.Along with VTel’s federally funded project, SoverNet is using a combination of federal, state, and private money to expand broadband coverage. FairPoint, Cloud Alliance, and Waitsfield Telecom all have broadband expansion projects in progress, says Campbell.Approximately 40 percent of Vermont residences do not have broadband Internet, according to a Federal Communications Commission report. The FCC ranked Vermont 38th in the nation in broadband penetration.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #113 (Wednesday, August 10, 2011).

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