Vermont House approves high-speed Internet access initiative

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(Host) The Vermont House has given its strong approval to legislation that’s designed to expand high-speed Internet broadband coverage to every part of the state by 2010. The vote was 132-to-2.

The key to the bill is the creation of a new Telecommunications Authority that will be responsible for implementing the goals of the legislation.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Backers of the bill say Vermont’s future economic development efforts will be severely hindered if significant steps aren’t taken immediately to expand broadband coverage in all parts of the state in the next few years.

While broadband coverage is readily available in the more urban parts of Vermont, there are many rural areas that don’t have high-speed service available.

The legislation is a top priority of Governor Jim Douglas. He’s vowed to make broadband and cell phone coverage available throughout the state in the next three years.

The bill creates a nine-person Telecommunications Authority that will be charged with creating the plan to expand these services throughout Vermont.

The legislation gives the commission the authority to issue up to $40 million in bonds to help finance new public-private partnerships that would target those parts of the state that need these services.

Montpelier Rep. Warren Kitzmiller is the chairman of the House Commerce committee. He strongly urged House members to support the bill:

(Kitzmiller) “I think that this initiative in many ways has as much importance to the economic development and the future of Vermont as did the rural electrification act of the 1930s. This bill can have a profound effect for every citizen in this state and its impact on our potential economic development can be huge.”

(Kinzel) Recently, wireless high-speed Internet service was installed at the Statehouse and members are able to use this service at their desks.

Johnson Rep. Floyd Neese told a personal story to his colleagues in support of the bill:

(Nease) “While we were listening to the report of these committees my daughter in Japan told me I saw you and I saw her that is an amazing thing and with this bill you’ll be able to do this on the dirt roads of Johnson and the back roads on Eden and I support this bill.”

(Kinzel) The measure now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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