Vermont broadband group to have 2k miles of fiber for 2022

December 13, 2021 GMT

A group working to expand broadband internet services across rural Vermont says there will be at least 2,000 miles (over 3,200 kilometers) of fiber optic cable ready for installation during the 2022 construction season.

Christine Hallquist, executive director the Vermont Community Broadband Board, announced Monday that three groups were working together to provide 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) of cable.

NEK Broadband, the state’s largest communication union district, has arranged to buy another 1,000 miles of cable, she said. Vermont communications union districts are organizations of two or more towns that join together as a municipal entity to build communication infrastructure.

The need to improve broadband internet services was highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, when people across Vermont and the country were forced to work or get schooling from home using inadequate internet connections. The push to expand broadband internet services across Vermont and the country has been given a big boost by federal COVID-19 relief funding.

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“I’ve been working on this for two decades,” said Hallquist, a former electric utility executive and 2018 gubernatorial candidate. “It’s the first time we’ve seen light at the end of the tunnel.”

Hallquist estimates Vermont needs a little over 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometers) of fiber to connect everyone in the state, at a total cost of about $510 million. There is currently about $250 million in federal money available. She hopes they’ll be able to bring the cost down to where the existing funds will be able to complete the project.

Officials say demand for fiber optic cable across the country has resulted in long wait times for delivery, in some instances as long as 52 weeks.

Six of Vermont’s nine communications districts will receive enough fiber to complete current construction plans for 2022 and in some cases the supply may hold until the 2023 construction season.

The nearly $7 million combined purchase would not have been possible without the support of funding partners Vermont State Employees Credit Union and the Vermont Community Foundation.

The Vermont Community Broadband Board was created by the Vermont Legislature earlier this year to accelerate the development and implementation of universal community broadband solutions.

The board has issued $21 million in preconstruction grants. Early next year, it will issue up to $116 million in construction grants to communications union districts and other eligible providers to expand broadband access.

Official state estimates say there are about 62,000 Vermonters who don’t have internet that meets minimum speeds of 25 megabits per second and upload speeds of at least 3 Mbps, but Hallquist said she estimates the number is closer to 100,000.

She hopes that in 2022 about 20,000 of those homes across Vermont can be hooked up.

Homes that will be connected under the new program must get 100 Mbps up and down, Hallquist said.