courtesy of Newport Wireless Mesh

For many Vermonters, a broadband connection to the internet is an essential facet of 21st century life, and yet there are some who can't afford it. A group in Newport is organizing a wireless network that will offer high-speed internet access at a price that low-income residents of the city can afford.

The Vermont Telephone Company V-Tel is looking at some fast-approaching deadlines to complete a statewide wireless broadband network.

A&D Klumb Environmental / VTel

Vermont is the largest per-capita recipient of federal funds for broadband expansion, with much of the money going to the Springfield-based Vermont Telephone Company (VTel) to build a statewide wireless broadband network.

The build-out is aided by a state law that makes it possible to circumvent local zoning laws to erect telecommunications towers — and Calais is the latest community to confront the tension between local control and state’s desire to expand broadband service.

Toby Talbot / AP File

Vermont’s Public Service Department has long overseen the state’s energy and telecommunications policy. Not long ago that involved keeping tabs on telephone service and electric rates.

But today, renewable energy development, the closing of Vermont Yankee and the importance of broadband present new challenges to the department.

The legislature this year set new broadband goals for the state, including an ambitious 10-year objective that would essentially require fiber optic broadband to every Vermont address by the end of 2024.

The Public Service Department now says reaching the goal would cost nearly $1 billion.

Steve Zind / VPR

Much has been made of Vermont’s efforts to extend broadband service to every resident.

But the service isn’t much good unless it’s used, and despite nearly universal broadband coverage, a significant number of Vermonters lack the digital skills to take advantage of it.

Six Vermont communities will benefit from a state program designed improve broadband service to businesses. 

The Vermont Telecommunications Authority’s Business Broadband Improvement Districts program will fund two projects to bring fiber optic service to parts of Braintree, Brookfield, Putney, North Randolph, Pomfret and Sharon.

The VTA will use state money provided under the 2010 Backroads Broadband legislation to construct the open access fiber. 

The FCC defines “entry level” broadband speed as 4 megabits download, 1 megabit up. 

In Vermont, more than 20 percent of addresses with broadband access cannot connect at those speeds. There are also those who don’t have access to broadband at any speed.

The state is in the process of developing a new statewide telecommunications plan. It’s a chance for the state to set coverage goals for services like high-speed internet, cellular coverage and broadband and to figure out how to make the market for those services work in a rural area.

VPR’s Steve Zind has been reporting on these issues and spoke with Vermont Edition about what he's found.

Broadband Initiative Tackles 'Last Mile'

Jan 27, 2014
Susan Keese / VPR

Gov. Peter Shumlin's assertion that high-speed Internet has reached 99 percent of the state has left some Vermonters wondering if they’ve been forgotten. That was the message from several rural southern Vermont towns at a meeting with the state’s telecommunications agency.

The Windham Regional Commission asked the Vermont Telecommunications Authority to meet with residents of the state’s southeast corner.  People from half a dozen towns gathered in Newfane, hoping for information on the roll-out of broadband and cell service in their communities.

State of Vermont
Vermont Center For Geographic Information - VCGI

There are still places in Vermont that don't have access to broadband Internet, and the Rutland County town of Chittenden is one of them. But that will soon change for parts of Chittenden, according to the Vermont Telecommunications Authority.

AP/Charles Krupa

Tues 7/30/13 at Noon & 7PM

Depending on where you are in Vermont, your access to the internet and the speed of that connection vary dramatically. Tuesday on Vermont Edition, we look at how widely available high-speed internet is here, and the efforts to connect the so-called "final miles."

Vermont Center For Geographic Information - VCGI

Vermont is again ranked as the state with the highest average internet speed according to the latest Akamai Quarterly State Of The Internet Report

In the past officials have cited the report as proof that Vermont is doing well in its broadband efforts, but there’s no shortage of people who are skeptical of the report’s findings based on their own broadband speeds.

“We have promised to have high speed internet access to every last mile by the end of 2013,”  declared Governor Peter Shumlin at a December, 2012 news conference.  It's a statement he's made numerous times.

Today, state officials are still promising that by the end of the year all Vermonters will have access to broadband internet.

As broadband has become more widely available, the state has continued to focus on those places with no high speed Internet in order to reach its goal.