“I’ll get straight to the point. I’m going to ask for money,” said Chuck Burt of Central Vermont Fiber (CVFiber) when speaking to the Moretown Select Board at a June 7 meeting. CVFiber is a nonprofit internet provider that serves 20 Central Vermont towns, including two Valley towns: Moretown and Duxbury. According to the Vermont Department of Public Service, they are what is known as a Communications Union District (CUD) – a coalition of local municipalities put in place to improve communication infrastructure in the state.
Burt did ask for money, some $67,000 initially and as much as $2 million long term with some of that funding expected to come from federal COVID relief funds.
CVFiber’s goal is to provide fast, dependable and affordable internet to Vermont residents. Like other internet providers, CVFiber’s services are paid for through subscriber fees. Unlike other internet providers; however, the nonprofit organization is primarily focused on providing broadband coverage to rural and underserved communities. The select boards of member towns appoint its board of delegates.
“Our goal is to have a minimum of 100-100 for our entire community,” said Burt, referring to megabit download and upload speeds. Those familiar with internet speeds know that a download speed of 100 megabits per second is remarkable. In many parts of Vermont, a 100 megabit per second download speed is simply unheard of. Anyone can find out their own internet speed by Googling: “internet speed test,” and clicking on the Google-sponsored test at the top of the screen or Google “GMAVT internet speed test,” and clicking on the first search result.
“A lot of us don’t even have 25 megabits per second ((mb/s),” said Burt. “And frankly, that’s not enough for today’s day and age.” CVFiber considers anyone with an internet download speed of less than 25 mb/s to be “underserved.”
According to CVFiber’s data, 38% of Moretown households and businesses are underserved, with internet speeds of less than 25 mb/s. Only 16% of Moretown households and businesses are on the high-speed end of the spectrum, with download speeds at or above 100 mb/s. The rest of Moretown’s premises fall somewhere in the middle, with 46% of Moretown households and businesses hovering just over 25 mb/s. “100-100 is a baseline for us,” said Burt.
Waitsfield and Champlain Valley Telecom (WCVT) does provide high-speed internet for parts of Moretown and for Moretown Village, but some areas of the town are out of its service area.
WCVT spokesperson Kurt Gruendling said his understanding is that the money CUDs get should be focused on unserved and underserved customers.
Gruendling said WCVT has 344 high-speed internet customers in Moretown that are gigabit capable.
So, how much will it actually cost to get high speed internet in Moretown? Completely covering Moretown will cost $2 million. Building the entire fiber network, across 20 Vermont towns, will cost $46 million. But these numbers are just rough estimates until broader state grant funding is confirmed.
“We are anticipating receiving ARPA funds from the state,” said Burt. These funds will provide grants for towns and counties to help offset the cost of installation. “At this point the amount of funds Moretown will receive is unclear,” he continued.
For now, CVFiber is asking that Moretown pay $67,498 in the short term to cover both pole inventory and design work. This step involves doing an audit of all of the poles, their location and how they interconnect, along with creating a design of how the fiber is routed throughout the network.
In the long term, CVFiber will ask for $1 million from the town to get construction underway. If Moretown accepts the offer, currently underserved residents should have access to high-speed internet by 2022, and the rest of the Moretown community should have high-speed access by 2023.
While the board didn’t make an official decision that night, board members had positive sentiments about the project. “The last year has demonstrated the need for good connectivity,” said select board chair Tom Martin. “We need good upload and download speeds. I fully believe that the fiber will help out the town.”