Release: Delegation Urges Vermont Broadband Infrastructure Funding

WASHINGTON, May 17 - The members of Vermont's Congressional Delegation -- U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D), U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D) -- are urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) to invest in Vermont's broadband infrastructure.  The lawmakers wrote to the agencies this week in support of the more than $219 million in broadband infrastructure applications submitted by Vermont companies and nonprofit organizations seeking Vermont's share of $7.2 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act broadband infrastructure grants.

"Each week our offices receive multiple pleas from Vermonters desperate for access to affordable, high-speed internet access," the lawmakers wrote in their letter to USDA Rural Utilities Service (RUS) Administrator Jonathan Adelstein and DOC National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Assistant Secretary Lawrence Strickling.  "These constituents are disadvantaged compared to many Americans and citizens of countries around the world who enjoy exponentially faster internet access speeds at a fraction of the cost compared to rural Vermonters' access speeds and rates.  Those with inadequate access to the internet suffer economically, socially and physically as advancements in e-commerce, telecommuting, telemedicine and e-learning become more and more pervasive."

The economic recovery plan directed RUS and NTIA to solicit and review proposals to expand broadband availability in underserved and unserved communities.  Earlier this year, the agencies announced hundreds of millions in grants from an initial proposal solicitation, referred to as Round 1,  including two NTIA grants for Vermont - a $1.2 million broadband mapping grant for the Vermont Center for Geographic Information, and a $2.5 million grant to the Vermont Council on Rural Development to help communities adopt broadband.  The lawmakers commended the approval of those grants in their letter but expressed disappointment that Vermont has not yet received any funding for broadband infrastructure itself.

"A recent University of Vermont Center for Rural Studies poll showed that only 69 percent of Vermonters have access to high-speed internet access," the lawmakers wrote.  "National data used to prepare the NTIA's own February 2010 Digital Nation: 21st Century America's Progress Towards Universal Broadband Internet Access reported that Vermont ranked 38th in the nation for broadband availability.  Despite these appalling numbers, Vermont failed to receive a single Recovery Act-funded broadband infrastructure grant in Round 1." 

The lawmakers said they highlighted all six applications they were aware of originating in the State of Vermont and serving Vermonters that have been submitted to the agencies in response to the second request for proposals.  Other applications may have also been submitted.  The applications highlighted in the letter include: Vermont Electrical Cooperative's $4.6 million mid-mile fiber optic project in Northern Vermont; Vermont Telecommunications Authority's $33.4 million proposal to create Vermont Fiber Link, a mid-mile fiber network increasing bandwidth and reducing broadband costs to state offices, healthcare institutions, schools and other critical customers; Vermont Telephone Company's  $13.7 million proposal to create an open-network middle-mile hub-and-spoke fiber network to schools, colleges, public safety facilities, healthcare facilities, and telecommunications providers; East Central Vermont Fiber Network's $44 million loan and grant proposal to build a universal, open-access, fiber-to-the-home system to 18 Vermont towns including libraries, town offices, schools, community facilities, households and businesses; Vermont Telephone Company's $118 million loan and grant proposal to create an open-network serving 61,497 Vermont premises comprising all 33,165 un-served households, with Tri-Band 4G/LTE mobile broadband, plus fiber-to-the-home to all VTel premises; and Waitsfield Champlain Valley Telecom's $5.6 million loan and grant proposal to provide fiber-to-the-home technology and offer connection speeds between 5 and 100 Mbps. 

The text of the Delegation's letter is available below or online as a PDF.  More information about the RUS and NTIA broadband programs, along with more information about the Vermont applications, can be found online at www.broadbandusa.gov.