The mission to bring affordable high-speed broadband internet to everyone in Lamoille County proceeds apace, with a six-figure funding boost to help the effort.
Lamoille FiberNet, the communications district established to serve all but one of the 10 towns in the county — Elmore had previously joined with a district to its south — recently hired an executive director, and he’s been busy catching up.
“I’ve been on the job for about two weeks and I’m drinking from a firehose at this point,” Val Davis, the new director said during a Stowe Selectboard meeting Sept. 27.
In a world of big tech companies controlling the broadband infrastructure, the biggest challenge might be finding someone willing to go small.
When it comes to finding internet service providers to bring service to Lamoille County, the FiberNet district faces competition not just from within the state, but nationally.
According to a recent presentation in Stowe, even providers building within the district’s boundaries could be more attracted to the “higher take-rate/high revenue” areas of the county and might not wish to serve the least-populated areas — more people in a small area equals a greater bang for their buck.
Stephen Friedman, Stowe’s representative on the FiberNet board, said the biggest obstacle to getting fiber to homes is the “conduit conundrum.” He said in places where there has been a lot of subdivided development over the years, such as in Stowe, subdivisions were built without their own underground utilities. He said there are far more such places in Stowe than in other towns.
This means either a homeowners’ association or a collection of homeowners, or a road owner, must agree on how to get the conduit into the neighborhood.
Stowe — along with much of Cambridge — is also unique because it is already served by an ambitious and agile local telecommunications company, Stowe Cable. The company’s president, Rick Rothammer, had issues with a previous assessment of broadband needs in town that FiberNet was using, saying 10 months ago that the company would have service to 90 percent of the houses pegged as needing it within three years.
Rothammer said at the Stowe meeting that Stowe Cable has expanded its service to include Stagecoach Road and all side roads, as well as places in Stowe Hollow, Moscow and the neighborhoods on Edson Hill. Overall, Rothammer said that’s 31 miles of new fiber.
Lamoille FiberNet was awarded a $121,000 grant in August from the Vermont Department of Public Service, part of funds from the federal American Rescue Plan Act. It will help the district find a partner — or more than one — to design, construct and operate the network.
Once agreements with those partners are inked, the district can determine how to best build out the network, and then apply for funding from the Vermont Community Broadband Board for the next phases, right up through network construction.
A feasibility study and business plan were completed in the past year.
“There are many, many steps involved in the pre-construction phase of a fiber network roll-out,” Larry Lackey, the FiberNet treasurer, said.