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Vermont Community Broadband Board announces initiative to accelerate installation of high speed internet across state

A new public-private initiative is aimed at accelerating the installation of high-speed internet in Vermont.

The state formed nine Communications Union Districts to deploy broadband and fiber optic cable throughout Vermont. The Vermont Community Broadband Board, which coordinates the nine regional districts, recently announced the new initiative.

The board has been addressing three constraints restricting the ability of the Communications Union Districts to begin building fiber broadband networks during the 2022 construction season: funding, materials and labor.

States across the country are planning to use billions of dollars of federal ARPA funds for broadband expansion. Broadband Board Deputy Director Robert Fish says that has resulted in skyrocketing prices and demand for materials with shipment delays of fiber optic cable approaching a year. Fish says the public-private partnership will allow for a bulk purchase of cable.

“What we did over the past few months is work with VSECU, the Vermont Community Foundation and other partners to establish a system where that they provide a letter of credit. So they backed the purchase for over 2,000 miles of fiber optics. We also estimate the savings to be almost $2 million.”

Vermont Communications Union Districts Association Program Coordinator Will Anderson says the initiative will assure fiber supplies are complete for six of the nine districts at least until the end of 2022.

“In many cases we will have enough supplies via this purchase to complete some construction in 2023 as well. We’re on schedule and we intend to complete this unprecedented effort and get every Vermonter connected to affordable internet within a five year window.”

The Vermont Community Foundation is among the financial institutions partnering to secure the $7 million needed for the purchase. President and CEO Dan Smith says the partnerships formed to accomplish this may be the most important facet of the initiative.

“What you see in a project like this is the ability of institutions to come together and step up for Vermont communities, commit capital in ways that are going to make a difference over the long term so that every Vermonter has access to the telecommunications infrastructure that allows them to fully participate economically, civically and socially.”

Broadband Board Executive Director Christine Hallquist says another challenge is addressing the labor shortage. She is working on a new program with NEK Broadband to find new workers through a social financing initiative.

“So we’re looking at the use of Career Impact Bonds to do pay-it-forward earn-to-learn programs in order to provide our labor needs. But this program can apply to all labor sectors across the state of Vermont.”

The Vermont Communications Union Districts Association, Vermont Community Foundation and the Vermont State Employees Credit Union will buy over 1,000 miles of fiber optic cable. The state’s largest district, NEK Broadband, will purchase the other 1,000 miles.

The cable is expected to be delivered in the spring of 2022.

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