Four Vermont towns recently joined a collective broadband initiative created to bring fiber-optic to underserved communities in the region.
According to the Vermont Commons, legislation was passed several years ago to create districts called “communications union districts” (CUDs), allowing such areas to become independent unified entities run by a board of directors in charge of developing funding plans. Vermont’s new CUD, the Deerfield Valley Communications Union District, is comprised of Marlboro, Halifax, Whitingham, and Wilmington townships, and was approved via town meeting votes in favor of supporting the development of regional broadband.
Advocating for voters to approve the new district, Tristan Roberts, chair of Halifax’s Broadband Committee, said, “The goal is to get fiber to every address in town. These districts will allow communities to form a consortium and ‘bootstrap’ their own fiber-broadband services to every home, similar to the creation of the Rural Electrification Act of 1936.”
Encyclopedia.com cites the Rural Electrification Act as one of the most important pieces of legislation during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency. The act allowed the federal government ‘to make low-cost loans to non-profit cooperatives [farmers who had banded together] for the purpose of bringing electricity to much of rural America for the first time.’
With only one percent of homes in Halifax with access to high-speed internet, the town’s 600 households and 70 miles of roads are well below the FCC standards. Roberts said, “That low population density is problematic for most commercial internet companies.”
The Deerfield Valley Communications Union District is slated to work with the Windham Regional Commission (WRC) to begin plans for the rollout of regional fiber-optic broadband throughout the district. WRC’s mission is to assist towns in Southeastern Vermont to provide effective local government and work cooperatively with them to address regional issues. WRC received the Broadband Innovation Grant (BIG) in December of 2019, which includes funding for a feasibility study and a business plan that will inform the region about how to best implement broadband service to unserved and underserved communities.
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