DVFiber seeks proposals to expand broadband access

BRATTLEBORO — DVFiber, a communications union district (CUD) consisting of 20 towns in southern Vermont, seeks to build a fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) network to more than 10,000 unserved and underserved households and businesses.

DVFiber recently released a request for proposal (RFP) in search of private sector partners to develop a public/private partnership agreement.

“Like our partner CUDs across the state, we are laser-focused on securing affordable, equitable high-speed internet for our communities,” DVFiber board Chair Ann Manwaring said in a news release. “The COVID-19 pandemic has clarified this vital need - for education, for health care, and for business.”

DVFiber envisions completing all connections by 2024 in two or three phases, with major progress to be made in the first year. The RFP provides information on member towns, details possible funding avenues identified by its governing board, and sets expectations for the resulting network.

The CUD model, established in 2015 by the Vermont Legislature and significantly expanded in 2019, allows area towns to band together in search of better broadband, leveraging more local resources and spreading the cost of new build-outs more widely.

The nine CUDs in Vermont have helped towns by allowing them to collaborate - offering partnership investment opportunities among less-dense communities - and to benefit from creating network efficiencies and from building more-resilient communities by incorporating lessons learned.

DVFiber, organized as Deerfield Valley Communications Union District (DVCUD) in April 2020, originally brought Halifax, Marlboro, Stratton, Whitingham, and Wilmington together, in accordance with the statute.

Since then, the CUD has expanded to include 20 towns and is exploring still further expansion. It currently covers 24,400 households, 7,300 of which are completely unserved by wired broadband at speeds of at least 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.

Halifax, Wardsboro, Readsboro, Whitingham, and Marlboro are in particular need of service, with at least 80 percent of occupied premises unserved by basic broadband, as identified in the RFP.

Predictably, the document also shows that 50 to 67 percent of households in those towns responded in a 2020 survey that they would “definitely” subscribe to a new fiber service, with another 25 percent saying they would “probably” subscribe.

DVFiber has gained significant momentum in its short existence. It was awarded a $100,000 CARES Act grant in October to conduct pole studies in Halifax, Stamford, and Whitingham.

Two grants totaling $30,000 from the Vermont Community Foundation supported initial start-up costs. A grant of $8,000 from the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation (BDCC) provided funds for additional organizational development.

A “Fiber Business Plan” commissioned last year by the Windham Regional Commission (WRC), indicated “a clear path” for DVFiber to “launch and oversee” the construction and operation of an FTTP network.

Statewide efforts also will be boosted by another recent grant. In January, the Vermont Department of Public Service won a one-year, $1 million award from the Northern Borders Regional Commission (NBRC) in support of CUD efforts across the state.

The grant joins $1.5 million already held in support of broadband expansion efforts and is split between $750,000 for funding infrastructure and $250,000 for hiring a project developer to help the CUDs navigate public and private funding avenues.

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