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Governor Phil Scott’s weekly briefing focuses on cellular expansion proposal

Vermont Statehouse  (file photo)
Pat Bradley/WAMC
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Vermont Statehouse (file)

Vermont officials provided the latest pandemic data during their weekly briefing Tuesday. With overall case rates down the theme of the briefing shifted to the need for the state to fund and deploy cellular expansion.

Governor Phil Scott began the briefing congratulating Olympic Super-G skier silver medalist Ryan Cochran-Siegle 50 years after his mother took gold in slalom. Scott found it symbolic that the Vermont Olympian was wearing bib number 14, noting that Vermont is the 14th state and it’s the number of his race car.

Because COVID data continues to improve the Republican and several members of his cabinet focused on a proposal to expand wireless service across Vermont. He said while there has been significant investment and progress over the past several years to expand broadband, cellular service needs similar attention. Scott said he has now submitted the plan outlined in his budget address to the legislature.

“I proposed a plan that invests over $50 million in ARPA capital funds to build more towers and significantly expand service. As we seek to grow stronger, more vibrant communities and attract people we need to have access to cell service," Governor Scott said. "Ever since the American Rescue Plan passed, I’ve talked about the need for using one time federal money for transformative, tangible initiatives. This plan does exactly that and it’s the type of project that will be very difficult to fund in the future if we don’t take advantage of this opportunity today.”

Department of Public Service Commissioner June Tierney said a 2018 survey of cell service along roads in the state found 62% of Vermont roadways have marginal cell service, 10% have no cell signal and about 70% of the tested roads get a signal from only one of two providers. She outlined the cellular plan that has been submitted to the legislature.

“We would establish and fund a critical communications infrastructure program to insure there is uniform voice coverage along targeted corridors in Vermont and to improve mobile wireless data services. The state of Vermont will facilitate building 100 new cell towers in rural areas," said Tierney. "Governor Scott proposes to use $51 million from the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund. This is a discreet pot of money that was established by the U.S. Treasury specifically to address the severe infrastructure challenges laid bare by the pandemic especially in rural America.”

Vermont has issued guidance, but not a mandate, that schools require masks and only one school in the state has not adopted the state criteria. Governor Scott said he is watching the data and considering dropping the school mask guidelines.

“The 28th of February is when we’re scheduled to identify whether we’re going to make that change or not and we’re contemplating that. The sooner we can get kids in particular back to normal, and that’s without masks, the better. I was talking to a mom and she was telling me about her two young daughters. They’ve never been to school without a mask on. And one of her daughters said ‘I don’t mind wearing the mask but I don’t know what my friends look like.’ And I thought how sad is that?" Scott added. "We have one of the highest vaccination rates in the country amongst kids, so we are more prepared than any other state in the country to make this move.”

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