High-Speed Internet Service Targets Remote Areas of Vermont

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(Host) For Vermonters living beyond the reach of high-speed Internet service, going online can be a slow and frustrating undertaking. But a growing number of small, rural wireless systems are bringing high-speed Internet to even remote areas of the state.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) As Vermonters spend an increasing amount of time online, there’s a growing demand for high-speed service, also known as broadband.

(Murray) “Children can access infinite educational resources. Health care: patients can have remote monitors in their house. And businesses – by having a broadband connection- it allows somebody to work out of their home.”

(Zind) Tom Murray is with the Agency of Commerce and Community Development. Murray says many Vermonters have access to high-speed Internet service through cable and telephone companies. But in sparsely populated areas it’s not economically feasible for those companies to provide service.

That’s why there’s a push for high-speed wireless service in a number of rural communities. It’s happening with some encouragement from the state and the help of more than a dozen Vermont based businesses that have sprung up to provide the service.

(Marsh) “The whole region here really is in a big black hole when it comes to connectivity.”

(Zind) Jake Marsh heads Cloud Alliance. The company provides rural wireless Internet service in Island Pond, with plans for systems in Westmore and in the Plainfield-Marshfield area of central Vermont.

The systems consist of a central antenna connected to the Internet by a high-speed telephone or fiber optics line. That antenna then feeds a number of nearby repeaters mounted on telephone poles. Each repeater might serve twenty or thirty households equipped with small satellite-type dishes to pick up the wireless signal. A single wireless system serves anywhere from a few dozen to a few thousand households.

So far wireless systems are up and running in about half a dozen Vermont communities, with others in the planning stages. In many cases the push for rural broadband is a grassroots movement.

(Duey) “We only work with a community if they have a committee or somebody that’s sponsoring it.”

(Zind) Al Duey is a consultant who’s worked with about twenty communities trying to establish wireless systems. Duey says typically local residents organize, survey their neighbors to see how much demand there is for high-speed service, then go out and solicit proposals from wireless providers.

Duey says rural broadband is more than a matter of convenience. He says small town high-speed Internet draws work-at-home business to communities.

(Duey) “I personally believe it’s a way to bring more high-paying jobs into Vermont.”

(Zind) At town meeting earlier this month, voters in the small southern Vermont community of Stamford agreed to spend ten thousand dollars to help get a local wireless system up and running. Stamford is so isolated that no wireless companies are willing to build a system there, so a group of residents set up a cooperative to do it themselves.

C.J. Vadnais is one of the Stamford residents involved in the Southern Vermont Broadband Cooperative. So far the co-op has about fifty members ready to use the system once it’s operating this spring. Even on that small scale, Vadnay says the co-op will be able to make enough money to expand.

(Vadnais) “At fifty users we believe we can generate enough income to eventually increase our coverage to the whole town. Our true goal is for one hundred percent coverage for the town.”

(Zind) For the consumer, the cost of wireless rural broadband is on a par with other high-speed Internet service – about forty dollars a month, plus a one-time installation fee. In addition to serving sparsely populated areas, wireless broadband is likely to expand into more populated areas and compete with other internet providers, giving many consumers one more choice for high-speed access.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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