Get real

We have had it with broken promises, spin, and doublespeak from the state about broadband availability

MARLBORO — For at least 12 years, I have been working off and on with other citizens to bring broadband to Marlboro. Currently, there is significant coverage here, though not 99 percent. Just last July I received DSL capability.

I question whether there is 99 percent coverage statewide as well. At the Vermont Telecommunications Authority's information session in Newfane on broadband and cell-phone availability in Vermont last week, I overheard one of the VTA staff members say privately that the number likely is around 96 percent to 97 percent.

If it is known for sure that 99 percent of all Vermont locations have access to broadband, then there must exist a thorough database of all capability and all potential service sites, and known for certain which specific locations - down to the individual sites - still need access to service.

If it is not known for sure that 99 percent have access, the governor and other state officials need to stop saying so.

Whichever is the case, the methodology for determining how many Vermonters have access should be made public.

If the 96 to 97 percent figure is accurate, that means 3 to 4 percent of the 626,011 people who live in Vermont do not have access to broadband. That means approximately 18,780 to 25,040 people, and probably about 8,000 to 10,000 locations - no small numbers.

* * *

To provide some perspective, I feel compelled to offer the following background information.

At some point prior to 2004, I started working with Last Mile Net to bring services to Marlboro, as the tower the company was hoping to use was located on my property. In April of 2004, Last Mile gave up after struggling to serve us.

I was one of a few people who formed a committee; on behalf of the town, we helped put together a successful grant proposal for funding, but we were unable to use the money to attract a broadband provider because no one could serve us, especially at the grant level of funding. Meanwhile, the state government made a promise that everyone in Vermont would have broadband by the end of 2007.

That deadline came and went, and a new promise of 2010 was made. Another committee attacked the problem in Marlboro. Another state promise was broken.

Throughout this time, the phone company routinely sent out advertisements and put inserts in our bills urging us to sign up for the DSL that was available in our area. When we would all dutifully (and excitedly) call, we would be told it was not available in our area, but thanks for calling, and our addresses would be put on the list of places where customers wanted service.

At no point during this time was the telephone company ever held liable for false advertising. I really think that should be investigated.

Then, the absolute final, definitive commitment was made that positively all of Vermont would have broadband by the end of 2013.

I personally have just-barely-adequate broadband levels (at best, 1 MB/s), when some services advertise up to 100 MB/s here in Vermont and, globally, speeds of up to 300 MB/s to 2 GB/s are available.

But not all my fellow Marlboro residents can get even this minimal service, and friends in other towns around the state also express ongoing frustration.

* * *

In all honesty, I do not want to hear any more promises and rosy pictures from PR, marketing, or government relations reps of the phone companies, the cable companies, the wireless companies, my government officials, et al.

I want to hear from the engineering department what is really happening - and when, realistically, all of Vermont will be covered.

My father worked for New England Telephone/NYNEX - the old phone company - as chief outside plant engineer for Vermont. I know some things might have changed in the 40 years since he retired from that position, but we can be sure that certain planning, engineering, and rollout steps are known by those on the inside, details that are not always shared publicly.

And as for the state not knowing all the locations that are not served, I have little patience for that. Prior to the use of computers, my father personally knew every phone route line, pole number, and manhole in the state. In his head. He knew where there was service, what was lacking, what was in the works.

Trust me, it amused him to no end when he used to give me directions to places by telling me what toll route to follow and what pole number I needed to turn at to get somewhere.

As a child, before we became sensitive to towers in Vermont, I remember the intense pride he took in showing me the very first microwave tower in the state, a tower that he helped engineer. It brought modern long-distance telephone service to the people of this state. He loved to serve people, and that included bringing them the phone service they wanted.

With the advent of these modern computer things we have now, I cannot believe that every single location in the state cannot be identified as to what services are and are not available to it.

Last I knew, the state was depending on people to all register their data online themselves. I'm sorry to say this, but that is ridiculous. If the state cannot find a way to get this information from existing databases, I suggest they consult the NSA for assistance.

* * *

I am tired of the carefully worded public statements that are not even necessarily factual, but are put out nonetheless, statements geared much more to create an image than to give Vermont citizens useful information.

We have to make life choices that impact very directly on our survival and ability to provide for ourselves and our families; we must make these choices based on the information provided. We are tired of being strung along and manipulated. Neighbors and friends have moved away because, after giving it a valiant try, dipping into savings, trusting that broadband would soon arrive, they cannot do their work without broadband.

Personally, I am disabled and depend on adequate Internet service to participate in some facets of society. I need to be able to find information online or submit comments or connect with friends, services, and stores instead of physically going somewhere. If I do want or need to do so, I have to find out if a location is accessible.

Recently, I learned that in one location where DSL currently is available, when houses are sold, the DSL is discontinued at those homes and is no longer available to new people moving in. I can only suppose this has come about because of a lack of capacity.

* * *

These are not trivial matters. So now, I suggest that we citizens request:

• That the governor will provide the method for determining who is covered and where there still is need within one week.

• That clear planning, scoping, engineering, and rollout schedules from all potential broadband providers be made public within one week.

• That a detailed list of all un- or underserved addresses in Vermont will be made public within two weeks.

• That the governor will assemble a group of citizens, government officials, and representatives (who must be authorized to make decisions) of all the Vermont broadband providers and, within one month, hammer out an agreement as to who will take on which projects, with completion dates, so that the state achieves 100-percent coverage in the shortest amount of time possible.

I put these requests out there not as a legal requirement, but as a moral and ethical requirement. Legally, I know I don't have a right to ask this. But as citizens who wish - and deserve - to be treated respectfully, we have every right and the responsibility to ask the companies that we pay (that we hire to work for us) and the governments we elect and fund with our taxes, to do these things.

Will these steps be difficult? Quite likely. Doable? Also likely.

I don't want to hear why this can't happen.

I don't want to hear whining.

I want to hear “can, and will, do” because it is the right thing to do for Vermont's businesses, entrepreneurs, citizens, and government. Whatever capability is put in place should be at least enough to meet 110 percent of the current need, at speeds sufficient to allow users to participate fully in online activities.

Let's all take the lead to make this happen.

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