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Local broadband future looking brighter

Vermont Chief Recovery Officer Tom Evslin announced last week that five area organizations have applied for over $130 million of taxpayer stimulus grants and loans for last-mile broadband projects that could reduce the number of Vermont households without available high speed Internet to less than 5 percent of the total.

Technologies proposed by the various applicants include fiber to the home, DSL, and wireless.

In addition the Vermont Council for Rural Development has requested $2.5 million for a sustainable broadband adoption program to help assure that Vermonters in 24 pilot communities have the equipment, training, and motivation to use broadband.

The Vermont Center for Geographic Information has applied for a $1.96 million grant to continue and extend Vermont's broadband mapping effort. The Department of Libraries has applied for 80 percent stimulus funding of $754,000 for a public computing center project to assure that computers are available in selected libraries for those who do not yet have equipment or broadband connections available at home.

Using definitions of broadband adopted by the federal agencies for the stimulus program, it is estimated that less than 20 percent of Vermont's 242,200 residences did not have broadband available as of January 2009.

There are existing, legally enforceable agreements with Comcast and FairPoint that should bring this number down to near 10 percent by the end of 2010. It is possible that stimulus grants now applied for could reduce this to less than 5 percent.

The goal remains 100 percent broadband availability but the state, Comcast and FairPoint have come up short in many of their pronouncements to date. Comcast and FairPoint have been slow to expand broadband coverage without the assistance of the taxpayers.

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