Vermont’s fledgling telecommunications districts want to see changes in federal funding — and to the federal definition of broadband — to better meet the state’s goal of universal high-speed connections within four years.
“It’s wonderful to think about the notion that we should be running like an electric utility,” Ann Manwaring, a representative of Deerfield Valley Communications Union District, told Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., during a Zoom call Wednesday.
“But until there’s some federal legislative action that permits that to happen … we have to function much more like a profit-making business without any profits below the line,” Manwaring said.
She and leaders from the state’s eight other communications union districts met virtually with the Democratic congressman to summarize their work so far and what they believe is needed to succeed.
The local governance bodies, enabled by a 2015 law, are meant to make broadband internet more widely available in underserved regions without financial risk to taxpayers. Only two districts existed before this year’s Town Meeting Day, and only one of them — ECFiber, in east-central Vermont — offers services right now.
With the Covid-19 pandemic heightening the need for internet access across Vermont, the state Department of Public Services in June released an emergency plan that called for universal access to broadband by 2024. Legislators’ goal in recent years has been to achieve 100 megabits per second speeds download and upload speeds by 2024, too.
But to achieve the 2024 goals, the regional districts would need to build 25% of their networks next year, costing around $75 million, ECFiber board chair F.X. Flinn said Wednesday.