Make no mistake, we have known for years that the lack of high-speed, high-quality internet service is one of the most critical issues facing Vermont.  Unfortunately, it has been, and continues to be, a very difficult nut to crack, including in a own community of Stowe.

First off, keep in mind, federal law expressly precludes states from having any authority over wireless and broadband services. Unlike telephone services, where the state has authority to demand last-mile coverage, they do not have that ability for broadband. And, because many times the build-out costs do not have the financial payback for telecom companies, such build out becomes that much more challenging. In fact, most state funds that become available go to provide service in unserved and underserved areas in Vermont not to expand service in areas that already have services. The Department of Public Service (DPS) is able to insert itself and demand some broadband expansion and service when there is a nexus between telephone or cable television and wireless and broadband, as they did when Fairpoint purchased the Vermont assets from Verizon, and they are doing when they can with Consolidated and Stowe Cable/Access. But, even as the entities invest in Stowe it is a challenge to keep up with the demand.

As this continues, though, I do try to address individual cases with the providers – both Consolidated and Stowe Cable/Stowe Access  Sometimes that results in success, but sometimes it seems the capacity isn’t there.

With regard to how to move forward, as a member of the House, I was always frustrated by the unrealistic promises made by state leaders of 1005coverage within a certain number of years.  It is simply not something the state ahas the financial capacity to take on.

I was pleased, therefore, as a member of the House Energy and Technology Committee, that we decided in 2019 to tackle the issue in a much more realistic and responsible way.

Toward that end, the legislation we passed in 2019 was designed to support municipalities and regional entities in their quest to ensure service, by developing a toolbox for them to explore and understand their needs, their options, and funding opportunities to get the work done. One of the critical aspects of this legislation was the considerable technical assistance and funding opportunities for Communications Union Districts.

Following the legislation becoming law, I reached out to the Town of Stowe to investigate the opportunities of which we might be able to take advantage to get our entire community connected. With the significant flexibility in the law, I thought there might be some options available to us. At that time, the Town did not seem interested.

That said, with the creation of the Lamoille FiberNet CUD, led by the Lamoille County Planning Commission, the Town of Stowe Select Board earlier this summer, decided to seek more information. As such, they have expressed interest in joining the CUD, but want to wait to make a decision until the Feasibility Study is complete. Lamoille FiberNet, therefore, has expanded the Feasibility Study to include the Town of Stowe. And, Stowe has appointed two liaisons to the CUD, Larry Lackey and Leo Clark.

Tilson Technology Management has been contracted to do the Feasibility Study and has until November to complete it.  That said, the CUD is hoping it will be completed earlier than that. It is my assumption that once it is complete, the results will be shared with the Town and there will be a discussion about whether or not to join the CUD. From what I understand, the decision to join the CUD can either be a decision of the Select Board or a vote by the Town.

For further information, Lamoille FiberNet CUD is in the process of developing its own website right now. In the meantime, you can keep up to date on their efforts here.