For many Vermonters, the COVID-19 pandemic showed just how critical is it have a good broadband connection. The so-called broadband gap is the target for Vermont’s 10-Year telecommunications plan, which state officials say is a roadmap to improve connectivity for years to come. a
“We’re going to be able to go to the places that have been dealing with the worst connection,” said Matt Dunne, managing director of Rural Innovations Strategies, Inc., which helps bring broadband to rural areas. “The folks that have had to send their kids to library parking lots to get their homework done to actually having some of the best broad in the country.”
Dunne’s company is working closely with the Vermont Department of Public Service. Commissioner June Tierney said anywhere from 47,000 to 60,000 homes and businesses in Vermont lack a good broadband connection.
“When you have a governor who has to order people to stay home for the sake of public health and safety as we just experienced, there’s a terrible inequity that then comes out,” she said. “Because if you have broadband you can abide by that order and do your part and still have some means of participating in civic life, your job – if you’re able to telecommute, telework, teleducation, telehealth.”
Dunne says the state is in good shape to meet the goal of the 10-year plan.
“The state has spent incredible amounts of time, including driving around the state with little devices that show where there actually is service and who has access to what kind of broadband. That allows us to have a real number to shoot for,” said Dunne.
He estimates this will cost between $360 million and $440 million over the course of a decade. The Legislature will start with an allocation of $150 million from the federal American Rescue Plan.
“The Legislature has agreed that that is the first objective to achieve: universal access to high speed broadband. Then, down the road, we have a roadmap for how to get to all premises,” said Tierney.
A draft of the plan is finished. Vermonters still have several weeks to submit comments and feedback through the department website.