Authority says cell phone service will be available throughout state

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(Host intro) The Vermont Telecommunications Authority says it’s on track to provide cell phone coverage and Internet service to every part of the state in the next two years.

This fall, the authority will test towers that would beam service to homes and businesses. If the test is successful, the state wants to build 200 towers statewide.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The Vermont Telecommunications Authority was created last year with a very clear mission. That’s to make Vermont one of the first states in the country to have cell phone and broadband Internet service available throughout the entire state.

Right now it’s estimated that about 50% of Vermont doesn’t have these services available. These areas are in the most rural parts of the state and the private telecommunications companies have determined that it’s not cost effective for them to expand into these communities.

For the past year, the VTA has been mapping the state to pinpoint where there’s no cell phone or Internet coverage.

Mary Evslin is the chairwoman of the VTA. Using $40 million in bond money, Evslin says the authority hopes build as many as 200 small towers to fill in the current gaps of service. The VTA would then lease these towers to the private companies to help pay off its debt.

(Evslin) “Our task is not downtown Burlington. Our task is in Eden. You can’t solve this problem using the business model and the technology that were used before because if they would have worked this would have been done already. So we need to break the model and think of ways to make this work in an economic situation that is much more challenging than the incumbents are used to working in."

(Kinzel) Evslin says the VTA is committed to building so-called low impact towers to deliver these services.

(Evslin) “Low-impact cell sites, they might look like residential windmills. They might look like silos, churches. If you have a 300 foot tower, you don’t need as many. If you have shorter, more discrete towers there’s more and we’re opting for something that looks more Vermonty, which is the smaller ones."

(Kinzel) Bill Shuttleworth is the executive director of the VTA. He says the group has two immediate goals. The first is to prove that its business model will work.

(Shuttleworth) “So what we’re trying to do is make it as easy as possible for these companies to say, `Yes, we’re willing to come into the state. We’re willing to increase our incremental investment to get the coverage that we want.’"

(Kinzel) Shuttleworth says the second challenge is to prove that the new technology works. That test should come in the next six weeks.

(Shuttleworth) “We think we have a comprehensive plan where we fundamentally can change how the construction takes place. The next step in the process is to do a trial to validate it."

(Kinzel) If everything goes according to plan, Shuttleworth says the VTA can definitely meet its goal of statewide coverage by the end of 2010.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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