Douglas praises broadband, wireless legislation

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas is praising legislation that will extend broadband and wireless coverage throughout the state.

The governor had planned to sign the bill today, not just celebrate its passage.

But he complained that the bill remains stalled at the Legislature, even though lawmakers passed it two and a half weeks ago.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) It was a virtual bill signing ceremony.

Lawmakers and business-people gathered on at Elmore State Park. They swatted at black flies and huddled around a picnic table as Governor Douglas used a tablet computer to put his electronic signature on a bill he has yet to officially receive.

(Douglas) “I guess I should give you the disclaimer at the outset here. I don’t have a bill to sign. It seems to have not made it over from the legislative branch but I’m sure it will in the very near future. So this is a celebration of a bill that will be signed in the very near future.”

(Dillon) Elmore was chosen for the ceremony because, like many rural pockets of Vermont, it’s hard to get broadband or cell phone service.

The bill is designed to make Vermont the nation’s first “E” State, with high-speed telecommunications service available from border to border.

A new Telecommunications Authority will help build towers and other infrastructure for cellular and Internet service providers.

Joe Allen is owner of PowerShift-dot-com, the company that brought broadband to Elmore through a wireless system. He says the new towers will help his and other companies expand.

(Allen) “For a lot of our deployment that’s the barrier to getting it out, is the cost of getting the Internet to remote regions. It’s expensive just to get it there and then you have to have it in place as you add customers because these costs in early stages can really determine whether you can go to an area or not.”

(Dillon) Governor Douglas says the legislation was an example of strong bi-partisan cooperation. But there was also some gubernatorial bickering as Douglas complained that the bill has yet to reach his desk for his signature. Before a bill is forwarded to the governor it needs to be signed by the lieutenant governor and the speaker of the House.

Douglas suggested that Democrat leaders were stalling on sending him a number of bills, including an energy bill that sets a tax on the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.

(Douglas) “Simply holding a bill prior to a well publicized event like this is one thing – petty, frankly. The other is the Yankee tax bill, and I’m not sure what the strategy might be there.”

(Dillon) House Speaker Gaye Symington says there was no political gamesmanship involved. She said she had returned to her regular job in Burlington and is not in Montpelier every day to sign legislation. She said Douglas has not told her about his complaints.

(Symington) “I will do what I can. But it does require if the administration is looking for a particular bill that they pick up the telephone. Just because we’re not an E state yet doesn’t mean that the telephone system doesn’t work. I will be glad to make every accommodation I can.”

(Dillon) Symington says she will sign the energy bill later this week. The governor has vowed to veto that legislation, and lawmakers will return to Montpelier in July to consider overriding the governor’s veto.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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