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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Statewide VT Broadband Closer to Reality

Using Burlington Telecom's municipal broadband network as a model, 22 rural Vermont towns are poised to pool their resources and launch a fiber-optic project that could go online by the end of 2009. Steve Willbanks, chairman of the Strafford Selectboard and a key player in the emerging network, said commercial broadband providers could not meet the needs of rural Vermonters.

"These fiber-optic connections are absolute necessities; not luxuries," he said. "We need them for our economical and cultural development. We've had seasonal residents tell us they'd move here in a heartbeat; they'd telecommute if they had access to broadband.

Read the original article at Burlington Free Press.com

I love it when things I've been saying for years come closer to reality. The telecos and cable companies have been screwing us rural Vermonters for years now. There are many areas of Vermont that still don't have cable television, never mind broadband internet. Any number of utility companies could have invested some of the millions they've made by providing crappy service over the years. Instead they relied on bogus arguments and empty promises to shun people who simply want access to services that so called "third world countries" already provide at a much cheaper cost. The infrastructure is already, for the most part, in place. Verizon could have upgraded their central offices around the state to provide statewide DSL, Green Mountain Power could have rolled out BPL service and the cable companies could have been far more agressive in running the cable to provide broadband service. Instead they've complained about the costs of doing this in the same breath they ask for rate increases.
I think the Public Service Board has dropped the ball in a major way in this regard. It would have been easy for them to freeze rate increases until these companies show some real progress in adressing the issues. Instead, they chose to approve rate increases with conditional empty promisies from theses crooks. Now, we have Verizon pulling out of the land line business in Northern New England altogether, when for years they have been promising to provide statewide broadband services as well as statewide cell phone services. What's their excuse for not investing? "It's no longer profitable" is the answer they give. Sure, now that they've milked every last penny they can out of us and broken every promise made to regulators, they want to get out. As they pass off their crappy, ancient network to Fairpoint, they are delivering fiber optic FIOS service to the rest of New England. I have yet to hear them complain about the cost of doing this. Go figure.
The cable companies haven't faired much better. At the rate they are rolling out service to rural communities, I'll be dead and so will you. Again, they've made broken promise after broken promise. The end result is that there is no competition for them and they like it that way. They continue to fight any stipulation that would require them to lease, at a reasonable rate, their network to competitors. This stipulation has been hung around the neck of Verizon since the break-up of the baby Bells. The end result has been lower prices and competition for our telephone services. Fairpiont has had to follow these rules as well, and they still believe they can be profitable and competitive in the phone service arena, but if deep-pocketed Verizon and the cable companies have been unable or unwilling to make this investment, one has to seriously question the ability of a much smaller company like Fairpoint to make good on the promises to provide statewide broadband. I wish them luck, tempered with a healthy dose of pessimism.
The naysayers that are against municipal broadband always have the same arguments. "This is socialism" and "Let the market dictate who gets broadband". The reality is that we are left without any viable commercial solution. This is not an opinion, it's a fact. The commercial intrests are just not interested in being the savior of half a million rural customers. The state of Vermont needs to be competitive in attracting jobs and agressive in promoting the quality of life we have here. That is an impossible task if we are stuck without a level playing field. If you're looking to relocate your company, are you going to choose a state where the basic infrastructre to run your business is non-existent or are you going to choose the state where your employees can have fiber run to their home. The rural beauty of Vermont is very attractive to corporations who would like to offer this as an alternative to grid-lock and urban sprawl, but moving here is simply impossible to sustain their business. The fact that, in this day and age, we don't have the basics has got to be a major concern as they look to future growth.
I would encourage everyone to support the current program being proposed by the East Central Vermont Community Fiber Network and tell your local lawmakers that you would support a similar statewide program. As usual, we are left to solve our problems ourselves. Perhaps some day the corporate bean-counters will realize that there are a half a million customers in Vermont who simply want the same services that are available to people in the more populated regions of the country. What's more, we don't expect it to be free, we're willing to pay for it!

Here is an interesting link that explains some of the technical details as well as some of the costs involved. It also discusses some other places with similar programs already in place.

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