Burlington Telecom and city officials have announced a new program to get high-speed internet access to more low-income city residents.
The Lifeline program, created in 1985, provides a monthly credit on phone or internet service to low-income families across the country. This week Burlington Telecom announced it would offer high-speed, low cost broadband to low-income Lifeline eligible residents. Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger explained how the program will work. “The federal government has this $9.25 credit. What the governor, the state, has done is made it easier for broadband providers to access those credits. Burlington Telecom is the first one to sign up. With each provider what that means for the end customer might be a little different. The way Burlington Telecom is going to do it is qualifying households will be able to get broadband, 25 megabyte symmetrical service to the home, for 9.95. So when you combine that 9.95 with the 9.25 credit you have a difference of 70 cents that households that want 25 meg service could get that service for in Burlington.”
Burlington Telecom General Manager Stephen Barraclough explains the utility is able to extend the program to high-speed broadband because of previous infrastructure upgrades. “Because we have a gigabit network, because over the past three, four, five years we’ve essentially swapped out the majority of equipment that’ll allow a thousand meg to go to every home we have lots and lots of equipment that we’ve actually taken off the side of homes that is more than capable of delivering more than 25 meg symmetrical. We have lots and lots of routers that can still be used. So if you look at it from a marginal cost perspective, how can we afford to do this, really there’s very little incremental out-of-pocket cost over and above what we already have.”
The city communications utility is the first ISP in the state to offer affordable high-speed internet to low-income residents. Governor Phil Scott believes the idea could work statewide. “It is a statewide issue. Anytime that we can provide services to those with low income it’s beneficial for our economy. And I talk a lot about affordability in this state and this is an area that I think where the 21st century economy is almost essential to be a part of. So a program like this could be translated to other areas of the state as well.”
Burlington Telecom is for sale and Mayor Miro Weinberger assured residents that this and other programs are part of contract considerations. "It’s something that we are in discussions with all of the potential buyers about. Before a decision is made that agreement will be compete and subject to public scrutiny. When we get that agreement to you I’m optimistic that continuity of these digital divide programs is one of the things that will be in there.”
Only one Lifeline credit is allowed per household for either phone or internet service.