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Telecom Authority Makes Pitch For New Federal Broadband Money

The Vermont Telecommunications Authority has taken the initial steps to secure what it hopes will be a long term grant to expand fiber optic service.

The Federal Communications Commission’s Connect America Fund Rural Experiments Program was created on Jan. 30. The program is designed to help shape the larger Connect America broadband subsidy fund.

While it is not yet accepting applications, the FCC has requested non-binding 'expressions of interest' in the program and on Friday, March 7, the VTA filed the necessary documents

The grant could provide a new lease on life for the Vermont Telecommunications Authority. A draft bill in the Legislature would eliminate the authority.

  The FCC’s program is designed to bring broadband to un-served and underserved areas. VTA Executive Director Chris Campbell says the emphasis is also on broadband that won’t become obsolete as demand for speed grows.

The VTA is initially proposing that grant money be used to work with Vermont providers to run fiber to homes, businesses and community institutions.

At a VTA board meeting last week Campbell said he’s encourage by the FCC’s interest in applications from state-created agencies like the VTA.

“They did call out state authorities and one of the things I’m really excited about is I don’t think there are a lot of states that are in that position, to fill that niche,” he explained.

Campbell says the FCC program holds out the possibility of long term support for projects and the VTA’s initial plan envisions using more than $40 million dollars in grant money spread over a 10 year period.

Campbell says long term grant money would also provide the security that would allow the VTA to use another $40 million in bonding authority that it has long had.

The grant could provide a new lease on life for the VTA. A draft bill in the Legislature would eliminate the authority. The idea has the support of the Shumlin administration.

“If that (legislation) comes to pass we would not be able to submit this application this summer,” Campbell told the board.

This week the VTA sent a letter to the chairs of two legislative committees describing the grant program and asking them for continued support. 

At least one Vermont provider has also filed an expression of interest with the FCC.  ECFiber, an association of Central Vermont communities, would use grant money to extend its fiber to home network.

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