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Sovernet 900-Mile Fiber Project Complete

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Steve Zind
/
VPR
Steven Proof of Barre uses a computer at Barre's Aldrich Library, which is one of hundreds of institutions in the Vermont FiberConnect Project.

On a per-capita basis, Vermont has been the biggest recipient of federal broadband largesse: A total of $174 million.

Four years ago, Bellows Falls-based Sovernet Communications and the Vermont Telecommunications Authority received more than $30 million in federal money to build a fiber optic network in Vermont. The project is now complete.

The grant for the Vermont FiberConnect Project was the second largest chunk of funding, behind an award to Springfield-based VTel which is building a wireless system.

Sovernet’s system is a 900-mile long network of fiber optic cable connecting more than 300 community institutions like schools, government offices and health care facilities.  

Richard Kendall, president and CEO of Sovernet, says the network will continue to expand.

"We now have a core footprint of 900 miles from which we can easily scale lateral extensions off of that. Our network isn't completely done by any means." - Richard Kendall, president and CEO of Sovernet

“We now have a core footprint of 900 miles from which we can easily scale lateral extensions off of that.  Our network isn’t completely done by any means. Where we are is now a starting point from which we can expand to other towns, other potential community anchors, small and large businesses, business parks, says Kendall.

Last month Sovernet finished connecting 43 local libraries, providing their patrons with broadband speeds of 1 gigabit per second.

Karen Lane, director of Barre’s Aldrich Public Library, says many who use the library don’t have computers.

“There’s a lot of poverty in Barre and this is an area where we can provide a service to many, many people,”she says.

Lane says the increased bandwidth from the Sovernet system is critical to meeting the needs of today’s library users who do more than check email. People now use the library to upload or stream video, for example. Lane says there’s one man who comes in daily to watch a film online.

“He’s here every day,” she says. “He says, ‘I don’t know how to read and this is my way of getting an education.' He’s working with some of the tutors at the adult basic education program and so he’s here watching a film every day.”

"Our focus is not on the residential end of the business. It's more on the medium sized business. It is extremely expensive and the economics are tough to sustain without some subsidy." - Richard Kendall, president and CEO of Sovernet

Lane says young, tech savvy library patrons also need the increased speed the network now provides. 

Under the terms of the federal grant, Sovernet’s network is known as a "middle mile project." Company CEO Kendall says last mile service to individual homes is a financial challenge, especially in rural areas.  

"Our focus is not on the residential end of the business. It’s more on the medium-sized business. It is extremely expensive and the economics are tough to sustain without some subsidy,” he says.

Kendall says a number of last mile providers are already using Sovernet’s system to to provide residential fiber optic broadband service.

In addition to federal money, the  Vermont FiberConnect Project was funded by a $12.5 million investment from Sovernet and a state appropriation of more than $2 million.

(This story was updated on Thursday, Dec. 18 to include the Vermont Telecommunications Authority as a co-recipient of the federal grand)

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