PUTNEY—With 18 months to go before the Shumlin administration’s deadline for universal broadband Internet access in Vermont, the Vermont Telecommunications Authority (VTA) says it has achieved that goal for 95 percent of the state.
According to a March 2012 analysis by the VTA, broadband service at a minimum download speed of 758 kilobytes per second (kbps) is available to 94.8 percent of locations in Vermont.
This figure includes DSL service from phone companies, high-speed service from cable companies, and providers of wireless Internet, cellular, and satellite services.
But the remaining locations in Windham County are proving difficult to connect.
On Monday night at the Putney Firehouse, Karen Marshall, the head of ConnectVT and the person in charge of making Gov. Peter Shumlin’s broadband promise a reality, appeared before 30 area residents to give a progress report on how customers in the hardest-to-reach areas of the county will see broadband service.
State Rep. Mike Mrowicki, who helped set up Marshall’s visit, told the audience he appreciated their patience.
But for the broadband-deprived people at Monday’s meeting who were clustered around coverage maps, checking address lists, and peppering Marshall with questions during and after her presentation, broadband can’t come fast enough.
“There are a lot of moving parts to this puzzle,” she said. “This is about the worst place on the face of the earth to build a network.”
But the goal remains: that every household in Vermont have access to one broadband connection other than satellite at a minimum download speed threshold of 768 kbps by Dec. 31, 2013.
Beyond that, Marshall said, most (but not all) locations in Vermont will have access to two connections by that time.
Connection speed, she said, is not as much a priority as making sure everyone has access to a minimum level of service. Faster connections will come later, Marshall said.
Two initiatives are in progress for Windham County, both funded in part with federal stimulus money.
One is Sovernet’s Vermont Fiber Connect, which is stringing high-speed fiber-optic lines along heavily trafficked routes in the state.
Crews were installing lines last week along Putney Road in Brattleboro. Ultimately, the network will connect more than 300 community institutions, such as town halls, schools, and libraries, to highspeed service. It will also provide a stronger backbone for Internet traffic across the state.
But, as Marshall pointed, it costs $40,000 to lay down a mile of fiber-optic cable, even when using existing utility poles.
The other key project is VTel’s Wireless Open World (WOW) network. Last year, the VTA awarded $2.05 million to VTel Wireless to provide broadband Internet to unserved areas in southern Vermont through its Backroads Broadband Program.
Marshall said Vermont is one of the few places using both fiber optics and wireless to provide high-speed Internet, which is important because of the lack of population density and the high cost of fiber makes wireless an important alternative.
The WOW service will likely be the primary source of broadband in many towns in Windham County, Marshall said.
By the end of this year, VTel Wireless hopes provide 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution) broadband service to the towns of Brookline, Dummerston, Newfane, Putney, Townshend, Rockingham, and Westminster.
By the VTA’s reckoning, there are 3,480 E-911 locations in those towns, and only 2,943 of those locations have broadband service.
According to Marshall, VTel projects that the WOW service will provide broadband to nearly all of the unserved locations with combined download and upload speeds equal to or greater than 5 megabits per second.
Other providers will be involved in the broadband expansion process.
Marshall said FairPoint, the state’s primary landline telephone provider, is in the process of expanding its high-speed network. FairPoint, and other telecommunications and cable TV companies, have all submitted proposals to the VTA. They will be approved in the coming weeks.
“The process of ‘when is it going to get here?’ is well under way,” she said.