ECFiber celebrates the high-speed Internet network under construction since 2007 – VTDigger

a man in a hat hugs another man as they stand in front of an audience.
After speaking to crowds celebrating the completion of EC Fiber’s broadband construction in 23 rural Vermont towns, Loredo Sola, right, and FX Flinn share a hug on Tuesday, June 27, 2023, at White River Junction. Photo by Jennifer Hauck/Valley News

This John Lippman story first appeared in the Valley News on June 28.

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION Woken by a 30-piece band filling the room with marching tunes, a parade of city leaders, civic celebrants and a United States Senator marked what has been described as a historic moment in connecting the Upper Valley with the rest of the world: Plug the gold patch cord into a telecommunications hub that will carry high-speed Internet service to 3,500 addresses in Hartford.

We have all waited patiently for this day, trumpeted ECFiber FX President Flinn, to the cheers and applause of more than 200 people packed into the VFW room on Tuesday, hailing ECFibers fiber-optic network that claimed nearly two decades to be world-class. broadband right here in Vermont’s Brooklyn, White River Junction.

The event, which was moved from the parking lot where it was to take place on a bunting-festooned stage inside VFW Hall due to the threat of rain, has been staged to celebrate the upcoming completion (a few miles of fiber-optic lines still remain to thread into sections of Hartford represented by the lighting of the latest hub of the 23-city consortium that has been working since 2007 to bring Internet service to rural Vermonters.

The story of ECFibers has spanned many chapters throughout its history: the top 500 investors investing $7.5 million in seed capital; it all but stopped short when a plan to increase funding was torpedoed during the 2007-2009 recession; alignment with ValleyNet; be rejected for federal grant funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009; and later turned to municipal bond markets for $64 million in funding.

Finally, earlier this year, after building 1,800 miles of fiber-optic network and reaching 24,000 homes, ECFiber entered into an operating agreement with GWI, a Maine telecom operator. Eight more Upper Valley cities in addition to the current 23 have voted to join ECFiber, potentially adding thousands more subscribers to its current residential customer base of 8,000 people.

A carousel of people who have been involved with ECFiber took turns on the podium sharing their memories over the years: Chuck Wooster, of Hartford; Ken Parker, of Hartford; Dan Childs, of Brookfield; Dave Brown, of Woodstock; Loredo Sola, from Pomfret; Carole Monroe, of Dublin, New Hampshire; Irv Thomae, of Norwich; Jerry Ward, of Randolph; and Vermont State Representative Jim Masland, D-Thetford.

One of the most critical people involved in ECFiber and ValleyNet, Stan Williams, of Norwich, was not present at the event but received many thanks from attendees, as well as Burlington telecommunications consultant Tim Nulty and the late Montpelier lawyer John Giuliani , who has been credited with helping craft the legislation that created the telecom union district that made the ECFiber model possible.

But the keynote speaker was US Senator Peter Welch, D-Vt., who commended ECFiber for taking on a project that phone and cable companies the usual telecom service providers rejected because there were no enough money for them, he said.

If we in rural Vermont had to depend on big telecommunications companies to wire our homes and have the Internet, we’d expect our grandchildren to have grandchildren, said Norwich resident Welch. It wasn’t going to happen.

Welch brought good news to the room: Christine Hallquist, executive director of the Vermont Community Broadband Board, just returned from Washington where she met with her friend, President Joe Biden, and shook his arm to secure another $229 million for the state under the Broadband Equity , Access and Distribution Program to expand broadband in the state.

We are now on the threshold of having high-speed Internet going to every home, barn and business in the state, Welch said.

For the most part, ECFiber built its fiber-optic networks by selling municipal bonds to raise funding and not through government grants, though that is starting to change, Flinn said.

In order to expand the network to eight additional Vermont cities, Bradford, Fairlee, West Fairlee, Newbury, Corinth, Topsham, Washington and Windsor, ECFiber has applied for and been approved to receive $2.8 million in pre- construction by the Vermont Community Broadband Fund, which the state funded with money received under the Covid-19-era American Rescue Plan Act.

Flinn said the grant will be used for fiber optic network design work in Bradford, Fairlee, West Fairlee and Newbury.

Additionally, Flinn said, ECFiber is working on the final paperwork to apply to the Vermont Community Broadband Fund for $13 million in grants to build the fiber-optic network, which we hope will be approved in August.

Those government program funds still won’t be enough, however, and Flinn said he expects ECFiber will try to raise about another $15 million from the bond market to meet the total estimated $30 million cost to build the fiber-optic network. to the eight additional cities, which joined East Central Vermont Telecommunications in 2021.

At the end of the day, Flinn said, he expects about 20 percent of ECFibers’ funding will be funded by grants.

Flinn described it as an economic imbalance because most telecom districts are financed by 50% bonds and 50% government money. But that too will change, he predicted.

We will pay off those bonds over the course of a generation and be on an equal footing, Flinn said. It’ll just take a while to get there.

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