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State Broadband Goal Slips Past Year's End

A worker installs fiber optic lines in Norton.
Toby Talbot
/
Associated Press File
Fiber optic lines being installed in Norton, Vt.

Vermont officials have long set the end of this year as the target date for providing 100 percent broadband coverage. Officials say while the goal is near, not all Vermonters will have access to broadband by the end of the year.

In his annual report to the Vermont Telecommunications Authority board Executive Director Chris Campbell said Friday there’s been great progress extending the reach of broadband in Vermont.

Still, Campbell says that for some projects funded this year, the schedule is such that they won’t be completed until 2014.

That means about 200 addresses won’t have broadband access until then. 

And Campbell told the board that more un-served locations may surface, since Internet service providers don’t always give 100 percent accurate data on the addresses they reach and the state’s list of E911 addresses can also have some inaccuracies.

“We know what we know about broadband availability and what we know has been getting better over time, but we do have to prepare ourselves for any surprise un-served addresses,” Campbell told VTA board members.

Campbell says the good news is now there are only three addresses in the entire state – all in the town of Newbury - for which there is not yet a plan for broadband service. 

The fact that the number has been whittled to three is one sign of the authority's success in targeting grants.

“We’ve managed to be addressing those un-served addresses so far within the budget we’ve been forecasting, which is a pleasant surprise,” Campbell said.

Another sign of success is that more than a dozen projects partially funded by VTA grants have been completed.

Campbell said fiber projects the state is directly involved in building are nearing completion including Vermont Fiber Connect a 773 mile fiber-optic middle mile network in southern, central and northeastern Vermont and the 36 mile Orange Co. Fiber Connecter Project. A  Hardwick-Newport fiber line will be finished this month, part of the Northeast Kingdom Fiber Network.  Agreements have been reached that will complete that network.

The group’s watch list of projects behind schedule is short: notably the five mile long Barton Fiber Project.

Beyond projects the VTA helps fund, there are others that won’t be complete by Dec. 31. 

Kiersten Bourgeois with the Agency of Commerce and Community Development oversees the state’s broadband expansion effort.  She says one example is a major project by Springfield-based VTel, funded largely by a federal grant and loan.  The completion date for the project is 2015, although Bourgeois says she's hopeful much of the work will be finished by next year.

“Think about any major development project that’s happened around the state or anywhere and there are often unforeseen delays,” says Bourgeois.

She says 98 percent of Vermont addresses currently have broadband coverage. The figure is based on data from dozens of Vermont Internet providers and surveys conducted to confirm that data. 

It’s clear that at least some of the remaining Vermonters won’t have broadband by year’s end but Bourgeois says they the state has made impressive progress – extending broadband to 30,000 additional addresses in the past three years.  While she can’t promise everyone will have service by year’s end, she says there will still be a reason to mark the occasion.

“I’m confident that by the end of the year we can say that every Vermonter will have a solution in place for good broadband,” she says.

A recent report shows Vermont is ranked 17th among states for highest average Internet speeds, and not in the top tier of states as earlier reports indicated. Campbell told the VTA board that progress in increasing average speeds is what is most important.

“Seventeen means we start at a place that’s less further along that we thought we might have, but in any event we know the direction that things are going is up,” he said.

Keeping pace in the future is another matter. Campbell says for the short term the investments being made in broadband mean the state will continue to increase average broadband speeds.

Beyond that the challenge will be to keep the infrastructure up to date in the state’s most rural areas where it’s harder to make a business case for continued investment.

Cell coverage remains a longer term project.  Roughly half of the target corridor mileage is now covered. Campbell says there is new interest by cell providers in improving Vermont service.