State Stepping up Broadband Efforts as Feds Mull the Same
Thursday, May 14, 2020
Posted by: Jeff Couture
State leaders are accelerating efforts to get people connected to the internet during the Covid-19 crisis, just as congressional Democrats on Tuesday unveiled a stimulus package that includes an $8.8 billion fund for emergency broadband services.
Last week, the Department of Public Service released a draft emergency broadband plan to provide immediate relief to people without high-speed connections and to give all Vermont residents broadband access by 2024.
Tuesday afternoon, legislators from the House Energy and Technology and Senate Finance committees probed details of the plan with Public Service Commissioner June Tierney and Clay Purvis, the department’s telecoms director.
Much of the teleconference discussion centered on whether the state could use its existing money from the federal CARES Act — $1.25 billion — to build out new broadband services. That money, however, comes with many restrictions on its use.
“It’s not freely available to be used the way this state for instance might find it most beneficial, which would be to build out infrastructure and buy down subscription rates,” Tierney said. “(But) in the telehealth arena and also the education arena, there are what I’m going to call ‘stretch arguments’ (for using) Covid-19 money.”
She said the emergency plan — which could cost between $85 million and $293 million — is mostly focused on securing other federal dollars.