Tower placement likely to increase with broadband initiative

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(Host) Vermont is likely to see more telecommunications towers as part of Governor Douglas’ broadband initiative.

Meanwhile, a key Republican lawmaker is skeptical of the state’s track record so far in bringing broadband to rural areas.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Governor Douglas has put the state on a tight timeline. He wants to have broadband Internet and cell phone coverage available everywhere in Vermont by 2010.

To do that, a new state Telecommunications Authority will work with private companies to build towers for wireless providers.

It’s not yet clear how many towers would be required, or where they would be built. Tom Murray is the state’s commissioner of information and innovation. He says that in many cases, the wireless antennas can be placed on existing structures.

(Murray) “But most likely there will be some investing in some small towers. We’re talking about nothing of the likes of what you see on ridge lines. We’re talking about small structures and strategically placed that they benefit broadband and cellular services. We know that that’s going to have to happen.”

(Dillon) The state wants to reduce the time and review involved in building the towers. Officials hope to streamline the permit process and reduce Act 250 jurisdiction over smaller structures.

Murray says that broadband wireless technology doesn’t require a large tower that would beam a signal over many square miles. Instead, he says smaller towers placed closer together are needed.

(Murray) “Most of the cell towers and the kind of towers that we would be looking to build in the last few years are smaller towers or towers that either aren’t on a ridgeline or are down on what I call the secondary or the small hills that you barely can notice because they’re backdropping into the mountains.”

(Dillon) Murray says the state may want to build some larger structures that would be around 100 feet tall. He says the authority would look for wireless and cell providers to lease space on the bigger towers.

Verizon Wireless says it’s eager for Vermont to play a role. Michael Murphy is a company spokesman.

(Murphy) “Economic incentives, as it seems are being suggested, are certainly a viable option for further expansion. But in addition, the market drives investment as carriers compete for customers as well.”

(Dillon) But Republican Senator Vince Illuzzi, who represents rural Essex and Orleans counties, says the market is not working fast enough. Illuzzi, who chairs the economic development committee, says he wants to learn more about the governor’s proposal.

(Illuzzi) “Given the governor’s prior position – let the private sector do it, I am skeptical, remain to be convinced, look forward to conducting the hearings and seeing what the administration actually proposes.”

(Dillon) Vermont is just one of many states trying to jump start broadband. A review by the National Council of State Legislatures shows that about 20 states have proposed some sort of publicly funding initiative to spur broadband investment.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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