by Peter Freyne
The Douglas administration's top telecommunications official - Public Service Commissioner David O’Brien of Stowe Village - met with House Speaker Gaye Symington Thursday and the topic was broadband, or rather the lack of broadband internet service and cell phone service in many parts of Vermont.
Afterward, Dave the Commissioner told yours truly the meeting went well. He said Speaker Gaye understands the issue. Access to broadband and reliable cell phone coverage, O'Brien acknowledged, remains a problem in many parts of Vermont - even in parts of populous Chittenden County. Said the Commissioner:
"In Orange County, 40 percent of the people have access to broadband. That's just unacceptable. What's tricky is if you go to a place where they have 80 or 90 percent, that doesn't tell the whole story and the Speaker well understands that.
"There's a population center like Burlington, and then you get outside of Burlington, as long as Burlington's covered, the numbers come up high. But as soon as you go outside that core, people aren't being served."
Speaker Symington, a Jericho resident who does get broadband at her home, told "Freyne Land" if we want to build a vibrant state for the next generation, having access to broadband and cell phone coverage is critical:
"Most of my constituents do not have access to broadband. Just last week, I had a call from a constituent saying he had two tenants who turned down the apartment because there is no access to broadband. It's a constant issue. It was the issue I heard the most about going around my district....
"It’s clear now, that waiting for the private sector to focus on Vermont and hook us all up to broadband is simply not a viable option."
The Speaker said the state should look at what the City of Burlington is currently doing - steadily proceeding to lay fiber to every door in the city (Burlington Telecom) providing broadband, telephone and cable TV service:
"We're dealing with something that's on the scale of rural electrification. There's going to have to be some creative thinking here that goes beyond just tax incentives and waiting around for the private sector."
Symington said she is "curious" to see what the Douglas administration puts forward in terms of a plan when the legislature gets down to business in January.