At year-end 2020, DVFiber had 15 member towns, a business plan, and strong motivation to put the plan into action. Now, at year-end 2021, DVFiber has grown to include 24 towns in 3 counties, has selected its private sector vendor partner, and has obtained substantial grant funding to begin the work.
We have collectively accomplished a lot in this past year with the incredible work of Representatives and Alternates appointed by our member town Selectboards plus additional volunteers – some sixty people in all – who have applied technical, financial, and communications skills to keep us moving forward. Now we are ready to design and construct the fiber optic network that will make internet access at gigabit speed a reality for nearly 8,000 homes and businesses on the grid that don’t have it now.
What are CUDs
Communication Union Districts (CUDs) are special purpose municipalities, just like water, fire, or sewer districts. Vermont had been struggling for many years through several governors of both parties to find a way to bring high-speed Internet to the most rural parts of our State, areas that commercial providers found unprofitable to serve.
Beginning in 2015 and continuing through this past year, the Vermont Legislature enacted legislation setting out the framework for the formation of municipal districts and giving them the tools to deliver service for all where there was none before. DVFiber is one of nine CUDs in Vermont.
Early on, our Governing Board, composed of Representatives and Alternates from all our member towns, decided that the best path to achieve the required results would be to form a Public/ Private Partnership in which DVFiber, the public partner, would own the network, manage it for the benefit of our customers, and pay a private sector partner to construct and operate it on our behalf. To that end, DVFiber issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) in February, setting out the specifications for a partner.
We received eleven responses to the RFP and dedicated several months to evaluating their financial value and alignment with our mission, vision, and principles. The Operations and Finance Committees led these evaluations. In July, the Governing Board voted to select Great Works Internet (GWI) of Biddeford, Maine, a B Corporation. We signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with GWI and began to negotiate the full details of our partnership agreement.
At the same time, our Communications Committee worked to establish a relationship with our future customers and the community at large by creating a web site (DVFiber.net), a social media presence, and a quarterly newsletter. This Committee also established the systems to provide good internal communication so that our volunteer organization would be well coordinated. This was a considerable challenge because so many Board and committee members have poor internet service.
The Vermont Community Broadband Board (VCBB) has just awarded DVFiber a $4.1 million grant of federal funds to finance pre-construction work. This work includes a high level design for all 24 member towns and a detailed engineering design for the 6 Phase 1 towns, the ones with the largest concentrations of poorly served homes and businesses. In addition, the grant pays for necessary work by Green Mountain Power to prepare its poles for the attachment of our fiber next year.
As GWI begins the pre-construction work, DVFiber will apply to the VCBB for additional federal funds to finance network construction. We expect these funds to become available for awards early next year. We are grateful for the federal funding and for the VCBB’s consideration of our applications. This funding greatly speeds up the schedule for construction. We now expect to connect with our first customers next summer, to begin construction in other areas next year, and to complete by 2024 construction to all locations that have been served poorly until now.
We would like to thank all of our Selectboards for their support, for their appointments of such highly-skilled delegates to our Board, and for their patience while we roll out this technically complex and expensive but essential program. We are working as fast as we can to deliver on the promise of a community-owned, fiber optic broadband network that provides affordable, world-class service to everyone.