In an unusual move, the Vermont Telecommunications Authority (VTA) last week terminated two grants worth a total of $3.4 million that were awarded to the Springfield-based broadband provider VTel.
The grants were designed to pay for providing wireless broadband Internet service to more than 900 addresses in Vermont, including in the Windham County towns of Brattleboro, Dover, Dummerston, Newfane, Putney, Stratton, Wardsboro, Westminster, Whitingham, and Wilmington.
The VTA made two awards to VTel in 2011 and 2012, according to VTA Executive Director Christopher Campbell.
When the initial grant award was made to VTel Wireless in 2011, Campbell said data available about current broadband service was not at the address level.
“Therefore, target areas were based on census blocks, which included both served and unserved addresses,” he said in a news release. “For more recent grant awards, the VTA has been able to analyze service at the address level, creating a detailed understanding of the need for broadband expansion in communities.”
Campbell said that although the first contract was due to be completed Nov. 30, 2012, VTel requested an extension of the project delivery date and other changes.
“After extensive negotiations, VTel Wireless and the VTA were unable to reach agreement,“ he said. “Through that process, the VTA determined it was time to examine other solutions to bring broadband to unserved addresses included in both the 2011 and 2012 grant awards.”
VTel president Michael Guite told Vermont Public Radio that the dispute with the VTA stems from having to build a separate project for the 630 customers included in the 2011 state grant, instead of including them in a much larger wireless broadband project that the company is building with an $81 million federal grant.
However, the distinction over whether someone gets broadband from VTel through state funding, or through federal funding, is of concern to the VTA, as it doesn’t want to duplicate efforts with the federal government.
In a press release, VTel said that it still planned to serve the towns listed in the two grants it lost, using its own money to replace the VTA funds.
Campbell said the VTA is contacting other broadband providers to pick up where VTel left off to provide service to Windham County, and that all the VTel money is still available for use by the next applicant.
Gov. Peter Shumlin has promised that the entire state will have access to broadband by the end of this year, and Campbell expressed confidence that the deadline will be met.
More information is available at www.telecomvt.org.