Broadband coming to rural Vermont, but technology still a question

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(Host) High speed Internet service could be available in every part of Vermont by the end of next year with the infusion of millions of dollars of federal stimulus money.

But as VPRs Bob Kinzel reports, there may be a battle over the technology used to deliver the services.

(Kinzel) Although the final appropriation could change, it’s likely that Vermont will receive at least 10 million dollars to expand broadband coverage to the most rural parts of the state.

Senator Patrick Leahy is a member of the Senate Appropriations committee and is a strong supporter of this provision of the stimulus bill.

Leahy compares the need to have high speed access to the Internet to the expansion of electricity in Vermont 75 years ago:

(Leahy) "I know a lot of companies that would like to create jobs in Vermont in rural areas but they need broadband connection to the Internet they don’t have it we’re going to help them bring that in the same way in my grandparents’ time they brought rural electricity to Vermont."

Bill Shuttleworth is the director of the Vermont Telecommunications Authority – a group that was created in 2007 with the mandate of ensuring full cell phone and broadband access throughout the state by the end of 2010.

Shuttleworth says the new federal money will help the state reach this goal by providing subsidies to make these services more cost effective in rural areas:

(Shuttleworth) "The federal stimulus money could help us tremendously because these are the most rural most expensive areas in the state left to be served. And these are going to take some help from a program such as federal stimulus to make all of that happen."

But a fight is brewing at the Statehouse over what technology should be used to provide Internet access to the roughly 100 Vermont communities that lack full coverage. Some people favor using a wireless system that utilizes towers and wind turbines while others think a fiber optic land line system is the wave of the future.

Essex Orleans senator Vincent Illuzzi chairs the Senate Economic Development committee. He’s firmly on the side of the fiber optic approach:

(Illuzzi) "If we really want state of the art maximum capacity availability of broad band services on an interactive basis we really need to use glass you know fiber to the home and that if we do anything short of that we’re only patch working an existing system."

Shuttleworth disagrees that the wireless broadband system is an out of date technology. He says in some parts of the state it’s the best option:

(Shuttleworth) "We’re following a path of using whatever will get the job done be it wireless, a landline and I guess I’d characterize that to say we’re technology agnostic we’re not pro wireless we’re not pro landline we’re just trying to ensure coverage to each citizen and business in the state."

It’s likely that this issue will be thoroughly debated in Senator Illuzzi’s Economic Development committee in the coming weeks.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

Photo: Worker installs fiber optic cable for Comcast in Ira, Vt. in 2007.  Some in the Statehouse favor fiber optic connections over a wireless system to provide Internet access to rural areas of Vt. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot) 

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