- Michael Tonn ©️ Seven Days
Governor Phil Scott announced on Friday $47.8 million in grants to support high-speed internet connectivity projects across Vermont.
At least 10,234 households will benefit. The awards mean the Vermont Community Broadband Board will have invested almost $100 million to ensure that every Vermont household can use speedy connections.
“Access to high-speed internet has become as necessary as access to electricity,” said CVFiber chair Jerry Diamantides. CVFiber is a communications union district representing 21 towns, including Marshfield, Barre and Waterbury. It also got funding in the latest round of investments. Diamantides said that the grant will hopefully allow CVFiber to bring high-speed internet to all its towns.
Christine Hallquist, executive director of the broadband board, noted that connecting Vermonters to a fiber-optic network is critical for ensuring equal access to educational, work, health and community opportunities.
The pandemic illustrated the burden of unreliable internet service on rural families. When school and work switched to online, those without access to broadband service were left behind. Many Vermont students had to sit in local library parking lots connected to public WiFi networks in order to attend school.
The broadband board was established in 2021 to accelerate broadband deployment across Vermont. The board administers grants through Vermont’s nine communications districts, which cover 208 municipalities.
Broadband access varies tremendously from place to place. Christa Shute, the executive director of NEK Broadband, told Seven Days in June that of the estimated 39,000 Northeast Kingdom homes and businesses connected to the electrical grid, about 44 percent lack what the state considers an adequate internet connection.
Connecting an individual home to high-speed internet can come with a hefty price tag. Edee Edwards, a resident of Halifax who spoke at the press conference, said that when she looked into bringing fiber to her home, she was given an estimate of $30,000.
“That’s not really feasible,” Edwards said.
When Edwards’ employer, who was transitioning to remote work, asked her to sign an agreement relating to the reliability of her connection, she realized she couldn't; it was too slow. Edwards was able to work out an agreement with her employer, but the situation made her realize the reach of the problem.
“It's not just about cables,” Edwards said. “It's about the connection to our families, to our friends, to our communities and to our health. That’s why I am so thrilled to finally see broadband out here.”