5 communities in Chittenden County form a new communications union district | Wbactive

A shipment of fiber optic cable will be delivered to the Washington Electric Co-op in East Montpelier on Thursday, April 21, 2022. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Essex, Essex Junction, Shelburne, South Burlington and Williston combine to form a new communications union district.

Such districts form the basis of Vermont’s plan to cover almost every address with high-speed fiber optic Internet connections. The districts enable the cities and municipalities to jointly negotiate contracts with the providers.

For these five cities and towns, the connectivity challenges are different than those in rural parts of Vermont, where many places have no broadband connectivity at all. In Chittenden County, most homes have some form of broadband connection, just not fiber optic connections, which provide the fastest internet.

The formation of a communications union district requires the consent of voters in a city or township. On November 8, 89% of voters in the five communities not served by Burlington Telecom or Waitsfield Valley Telecom voted for the district.

With the addition of the five Chittenden County municipalities, 213 of Vermont’s 252 cities, towns and gores are now part of a communications union district.

“Chittenden County is a little bit unique,” said Robert Fish, associate director of the Vermont Community Broadband Board, the organization responsible for bringing fiber to the state. “Most underserved addresses are at the end of streets.”

Fish said many addresses in the five cities and towns already have some form of broadband coverage, but many don’t have access to the high-speed fiber-optic broadband the state is aiming for.

“These cities are seeing the rest of the state pulling together and coming up with a fiber connectivity plan,” Fish said.

Fish said the next steps are for each city to elect a representative and alternate for the communications union district and explore various options to get fiber to everyone in the five communities. Neighboring cities have expressed interest in joining the district, Fish said.

The Center for Rural Innovation, founded by Matt Dunne, who previously served in the Legislature and ran for governor as a Democrat, will conduct the study. The group has already conducted studies for other communications union districts. According to Fish, the study includes designing the network, interviewing existing and potential providers, and determining costs.

Before forming the communications union district, Fish said the five cities tried to address fiber connections themselves.

In South Burlington, less than 1% of homes don’t have broadband, said Assistant City Manager Andrew Bolduc.

“We have a few pockets in our southeast quadrant, but that’s about it,” Bolduc said.

Initially, he said, the city predicted that private companies would eventually cover everyone. But as regulations changed, it became clear that state funding would only go to communications union districts using federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act signed into law by President Biden last year. It has also been shown, said Bolduc, that it is easier for private companies to have one contact than five different municipalities.

“If we want access to that funding or a seat with vendors in building their network, the best way to do that was by forming a CUD,” Bolduc said.

Many single-family homes built in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s have basic broadband and no competition between providers, he added.

Williston also wants to tie up the homes that were unserviced.

“We’re unique in that we have these smaller households that don’t have access,” said Williston Town Manager Erik Wells. He estimates that around 140 households do not have access to broadband.

Want to stay up to date with the latest business news? Sign up here to receive a weekly email with all of VTDigger’s reports on local businesses and economic trends. And check out our new business section here.

Did you know that VTDigger is non-profit?

Our journalism is made possible by member donations from readers like you. If you appreciate what we do, please contribute during our annual fundraiser by sending 10 meals to the Vermont Foodbank.

Leave a Comment