Taxpayers tapped for broadband expansion

It was promised more than 5 years ago-broadband everywhere in Vermont. But promises, especially when it comes to rural telecommunications, are rarely fulfilled. Now it looks like the promise may become a reality.

The Vermont Telephone Company (VTel) received a U.S. Department of Agriculture rural broadband grant and loan award-funded by U.S. taxpayers-as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The total project cost will be more than $146 million including $30 million of private capital to be invested by VTel.

VTel was awarded an approximately $82 million taxpayer grant and $35 million taxpayer loan to bring broadband service to more than 130,000 unserved and underserved Vermonters. VTel believes that this project, along with services already in place, will result in virtually all Vermonters having high quality broadband available. Moreover, because the project uses 4G wireless technology, it is claimed that it will contribute to the improvement of cellular coverage in Vermont.

This latest announcement comes on the heels of a recent broadband award for nearly $48 million to the Vermont Telecommunications Authority (VTA) and VTel to build-out middle-mile fiber and bring ultra high-speed broadband to "anchor" institutions throughout the state.

Vermont electrical utilities were also awarded a nearly $60 million grant to achieve a statewide Smart Grid to help increase energy efficiency, promote renewable source of power and provide Vermonters with more information and control over how they use energy. The total stimulus broadband and smart grid awards to Vermont and Vermont companies are almost $250 million-critical capital funding that is needed to make the e-State a reality.

Vermont's Chief Technology Officer Tom Evslin said that "despite the great recession (starting in 2009) which made private capital hard to come by, we have now obtained from state, federal, and private sources virtually all the capital we need to achieve our initial e-State goals and even more. We are funded to have the smartest electrical grid and best statewide communication capability in the nation."

In addition to these awards, state government is making additional investments to bring broadband to every corner of the state. The proposed "Backroads Broadband" program includes the legislature's appropriated nearly $3 million to the program in the Vermont Governor's Jobs Bill last session. This program, along with additional support of the VTA, will help bring services to last mile customers.

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