Sanders Op-Ed: Moving Broadband Forward in Vermont

By:  Sen. Bernie Sanders

Vermonters from every walk of life understand that it is absurd that in the year 2010 we still do not have universal, high-quality, affordable broadband service in our state.  We need strong broadband coverage from one end of the state to the other if business is going to thrive, create jobs and be competitive in the national and global economies.  Quality broadband also is essential for health care services, education and for the day-to-day needs of Vermonters.
           
The bad news is that, according to the Vermont Center for Rural Studies, more than one in five Vermonters do not have access to broadband.  A report from the U.S. Department of Commerce ranks Vermont 35th in the nation for broadband availability. At a time when the world is quickly going digital, this missing infrastructure places Vermonters at a tremendous disadvantage.

The good news is that, as many Vermonters know, our state recently was awarded more than $170 million in federal stimulus funds with the goal of bringing affordable, quality, high-speed Internet access within the next few years to every community in the state. At a time when many companies have refused to invest in broadband in rural America because they do not find it profitable enough this federal help, if used effectively, will be a great step forward for our state.  Done properly, these projects will connect virtually all of Vermont’s homes, schools, hospitals and small businesses with each other and the world. It will bring us roaring into the 21st century and could be a model for all of rural America.  

For years there has been a lot of talk about this issue. Now, finally, we have the opportunity to act - and act boldly.
           
As someone who believes we must invest in our deteriorating infrastructure, and that broadband is an essential part of that infrastructure, I’m extremely excited by these grants and loans. I do want to make sure, however, that the businesses and non-profit entities that have received these substantial federal grants and loans do what they are supposed to do in a timely, cost-effective manner that benefits all Vermonters.  I also want to make sure that the people of our state have input into the process and have the opportunity to have their concerns addressed.  Some of the questions that my office has been hearing are: when will my town get broadband, what will the quality be, how much will it cost me and will it have any impact upon expanding cell phone service? 
           
In order to address these and other issues, I will hold a town meeting at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 25, in Judd Hall at Vermont Technical College in Randolph. This meeting will give Vermonters an opportunity to learn about a Vermont Telephone Co. project to bring high-speed wireless broadband into virtually all un-served areas of the state.

The meeting will feature Jonathan Adelstein, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Service administrator, which awarded the funds, and Michel Guite, the CEO of VTel.
           
Vermont is a small state in which local communities and the state and federal government can work together with the private sector in a productive way.  We now have, as a result of this new federal funding, the opportunity to go from a state that has lagged behind most of the country, in terms of broadband access, to a national leader.  Please join me and your neighbors on Saturday, Sept. 25 in Randolph to help make that vision a reality.