Four out of nine areas in Vermont where access to the broadband is limited will benefit from a nearly $10 million federal grant.

Members of Vermont Community Broadband Board, along with Governor Phil Scott and Rep. Peter Welch, gathered in Montpelier on Monday to celebrate securing the grant funded by American Rescue Plan. They say Vermont has a serious “digital divide,” and the pandemic has exposed the problem as more people need to be online to work, learn or access health care.  

“We saw how challenging it was for some families and kids who didn’t have access to broadband when we closed schools and had to resort to remote learning,” Scott said. “We also saw the challenges for working Vermonters who didn’t have access to broadband when we asked them to stay home. Access to broadband is a necessity in the 21st century.”

The grants will fund engineering and design studies, business planning and other work associated with the construction of broadband networks. The first four so-called Communication Union Districts to receive funding include towns in the Northeast Kingdom and central and southern Vermont. 

“We did our part to get funds, but you know the hardest part? Is taking those funds and then in a responsible, careful, effective way to actually get them deployed and get those homes wired,” said Welch. 

Steven John, a retired teacher and superintendent of the Windham Central Supervisory Union, is vice chair of the Deerfield Valley Communication Union District, which is set to receive $4.1 million to bolster access in 24 member towns with 5,400 underserved homes and businesses.

Other municipal corporations receiving support include Maple Broadband ($2,399,200), Central Vermont Fiber ($2,804,667) and Northwest Communication Union District ($604,376).  

“This money enable us to invest in the infrastructure that will be future-proof, that has the fiber capacity that has unlimited bandwidth possible,” said John.

A resident of Marlboro, Vermont, John says he experiences the same challenges his neighbors face when it comes to broadband connectivity. 

“It’s not based on how much money you have, it’s based on where you live,” said John. “And if you’ve chosen to live on a dirt road in Vermont, you’re likely not going to be able to enjoy the same connectivity for business, for health, for education, for recreation than you’re neighbors can who live in a cabled area.”