RANDOLPH CENTER, Vt., Sept. 25 – U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today secured a commitment that virtually all Vermonters will have affordable access to broadband Internet service within three years.
“When we talk about infrastructure in the year 2010, we are talking about the need to make quality, affordable broadband available to every community in the state,” Sanders told more than 300 people who attended the town meeting that he hosted at Vermont Technical College.
The Vermont Telephone Co., which won the biggest slice of $172 million of federal stimulus funds to bring broadband service to Vermont, pledged to help bring 21st century computer access to Vermont businesses, schools and hospitals. Michel Guite, the VTel CEO, pledged to the three-year timeline. He also said the broadband services would be affordable, costing $10 for a basic package and for $35 for a faster-speed service.
VTel was awarded an $81.7 million grant and a $35.2 million loan. It was one of four Vermont infrastructure projects that will share in broadband funding for the state. Sanders stressed that 73 percent of the money -- $125 million – is dedicated to projects that will use fiber optic technology. The grants are part of $7.2 billion in stimulus funds awarded nationwide.
The grants were awarded by U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service. Jonathan Adelstein, a top USDA administrator who heads the service, assured the audience there would be “vigilant oversight” of the projects “to make sure it happens.” Invited to Vermont by Sanders to hear people’s concerns firsthand, Adelstein assured the audience that “this project pencils out. It works.” He called Vermont “a potential model for the rest of the country.”
State Sen. Vince Illuzzi (R-Essex/Orleans) spoke of the need for broadband access in all regions of the State, including the Northeast Kingdom towns that he represents, as a tool for economic development and to provide educational opportunities for all Vermont children.
Tom Evslin, who served as Vermont’s Chief Technology Officer, also attended the meeting. “I think this is great,” he said. “The funding that has been an obstacle for so long is now in place. We aren’t going to be behind anymore,” he said. “We are going to be leading.”
Sanders agreed. “If grant recipients do what they are supposed to do, then within three years, for the first time in America, every community in a state will have access to high-quality broadband at an affordable cost. That’s what I want, and that’s what I’m going to fight for.”
Today, more than one in five Vermonters lack access to broadband, according the Vermont Center on Rural Studies. There are 84 Vermont communities that have very inferior or no broadband at all, according to the Vermont Telecommunications Authority. Vermont is ranked No. 35 in the country for broadband availability and the United States is ranked 18th in the world. The infusion of funds under the economic recovery act Congress passed last year will help increase access to broadband Internet both in Vermont and throughout the United States.
To view pictures from the event in Randolph, click here.