Vermont's congressional delegation — along with Gov. Jim Douglas — announced this morning that $47.1 million in federal stimulus grants have been awarded to two state telecommunication groups that plan to use the money to build fiber optic networks that will help form the core of Vermont’s broadband network.
In a joint news release, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) and Republican Gov. Jim Douglas called the two grants the "largest public investment in broadband infrastructure ever made in Vermont."
The new funds will be used to wire “anchor institutions” across the state and bring high-capacity, lightning-fast, affordable broadband bandwidth closer to end users, the quartet announced.
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke told Vermont officials the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) is awarding a $33.4 million grant to the Vermont Telecommunications Authority (VTA) and a $13.7 million grant to the Vermont Telephone Company (VTel) through NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). The two grants are part of a $7.2 billion broadband investment program that Congress and President Barack Obama crafted as part of last year’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Leahy, Sanders, Welch and Douglas will hold a joint press conference later today to formally announce the grant awards.
Both grants are awarded through BTOP’s Comprehensive Community Infrastructure program, under which NTIA, according the agency, solicited “projects to deploy new or improved broadband internet facilities and to connect ‘community anchor institutions’ such as schools, libraries, hospitals, and public safety facilities. These networks help ensure sustainable community growth and provide the foundation for enhanced household and business broadband internet services.”
VTA will use the funds to build Vermont Fiber Link, a statewide, mid-mile fiber network increasing bandwidth and reducing broadband costs to state offices, healthcare institutions, schools and other critical customers. Springfield-based VTeL will use the $13.7 million grant to create an open-network middle-mile hub-and-spoke fiber network to schools, colleges, public safety facilities, healthcare facilities, and telecommunications providers.
VTel is one of the private firms that has expressed an interest in partnering with the troubled Burlington Telecom.
VTel and VTA were among three Vermont applicants that sought federal stimulus funding through the NTIA program. The other applicant was the Vermont Electrical Cooperative, which was seeking a $4.6 million proposal to connect 154 anchor institutions to a fiber network in northern Vermont.
“These federal investments are the largest public investments in boosting broadband access in Vermont‘s history, and the benefits will ripple throughout our economy, bringing lightning-fast bandwidth much closer to end users," said Leahy in a statement. "Both VTA and VTel will lay fiber where it does not exist today. This is the vital first step in delivering state-of-the-art broadband service to every Vermonter.”
Leahy, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, pressed for inclusion of broadband infrastructure funding during drafting of the economic recovery package.
“Every day I hear from Vermonters upset about inadequate broadband service in our state,” said Sanders. “This $47 million award of federal grants will bring Vermont broadband service into the 21st century. It will improve our business climate and help our schools, colleges, hospitals and other medical facilities perform better. It must also pave the way for reasonably-priced broadband services for virtually every household in the state of Vermont.”
Welch, too, said the investment will help Vermont businesses in the future.
“It is no overstatement to say that the future of Vermont’s economy depends upon the swift and complete deployment of broadband throughout our state. Yet Vermont continues to lag behind, preventing families, businesses, schools and hospitals from joining the digital age,” said Welch in a statement. Welch is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet.
Douglas, who has touted making Vermont the nation's first "e-State" for years, lauded the grant funding.
"Ensuring that all Vermonters have access to broadband service is a top priority of mine," said Douglas in a statement. "We've been working hard to achieve that goal through the e-State initiative, the VTA and support of other broadband initiatives."
The most recent iteration of the "e-State" initiative in 2007 that led to the creation of the VTA, noted that during the past legislative session Vermont invested $2 million in the state's capital budget to contribute toward this project and roughly $3 million for his Backroads Broadband program to reach more rural areas.
Earlier this year, the federal Department of Energy awarded Vermont with a $69 million smart grid grant as part of the economic stimulus bill. That grant will be used to deploy technology, including high-speed internet access and fiber optic infrastructure, to better manage power demand and supply.
The United States Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Service, which also solicited applications for broadband infrastructure funding as part of the federal stimulus bill, has not yet announced if any Vermont applicants will receive funding.
Three Vermont projects are seeking funds from that program. They are:
East Central Vermont Fiber Network: A $44 million loan and grant proposal to build a universal, open-access, fiber-to-the-home system to libraries, town offices, schools, community facilities, households and businesses in 18 Vermont towns.
Vermont Telephone Company: A $118 million loan and grant proposal to create an open network serving 61,497 Vermont premises, comprising all 33,165 unserved households, with Tri-Band 4G/LTE mobile broadband, plus fiber-to-the-home to all VTel premises.
Waitsfield Champlain Valley Telecom: A $5.6 million loan and grant proposal to provide fiber-to-the-home technology and offer connection speeds between 5 and 100 Mbps.