Read DVFiber’s inaugural annual report, published October 2020.
Citizens of the picturesque and rural towns of Vermont are limited by the poor quality of Internet service provided by the private sector. To date, private corporations have little reason to invest in a “future proof” infrastructure that would guarantee high-speed, synchronous broadband access to all locations. Small towns realize that they do not have sufficient population densities to justify the private capital investment in a service that promises little prospect of a profitable return.
More than ten years ago some towns formed local committees to explore how they might improve their connectivity. In two towns, Readsboro and Marlboro, the work of these broadband committees resulted in applications for grants, requests for proposals (RFPs), and consideration of bids from service providers. Readsboro signed a contract with a firm to do a pole study, which is required preparation for any installation of additional cable on power poles. Funded by a successful grant application, this work has begun in Readsboro.
Marlboro’s broadband committee (MCUB) reviewed the bids received and found none were acceptable due to financial concerns. Individual towns in Vermont are unable to use municipal bonds to build broadband networks.
Every member town of the Deerfield Valley Communications Union District (DVCUD) has citizen volunteers who have met either informally or as a publicly appointed committee to advocate for high-speed broadband for all. Prior to formation of DVCUD, members of these local advocates met informally to share ideas about how best to improve access to the Internet in their towns. These meetings were held in Jacksonville and moderated by Ann Manwaring of Wilmington. The participants in these Deerfield Valley Broadband Working Group discussions represented six-eight towns. Also attending were corporate representatives, members of the press, and guests from Bennington County.
The Deerfield Valley Broadband Working Group asked towns to consider forming a Deerfield Valley Communications Union District and presenting the question as an Article requiring a vote at March Town Meetings. The Article to join DVCUD was approved unanimously in five towns: Halifax, Marlboro, Whitingham, Wilmington, and Stratton. These five were the founding members of DVCUD and organized legally to become a municipal entity on April 9, 2020.
At the organizational meeting, the representatives of the five towns unanimously voted to accept two more towns–Readsboro and Wardsboro– making seven representatives on the governing board. The board adopted Mission and Vision Statements, Bylaws, and a Conflict of Interest Policy.
As required by statute, DVCUD held its Annual Meeting on May 12, 2020, at 5:00 p.m. Due to the pandemic emergency, this meeting was conducted publicly online. The prior meeting’s election of officers was confirmed and three new member towns were approved unanimously–Dover, Jamaica, and Stamford. The ten-member board appointed Paul Butler of Marlboro as Treasurer of DVCUD. The Treasurer was authorized to open a bank account and obtain a registered business name (trademark) as DVFiber.
In 2019, Governor Scott signed enabling legislation that allowed for two or more towns to create a Communications Union District (CUD). A CUD functions as a municipal entity that serves a region for the sole purpose of providing high-speed broadband for all. A CUD in Vermont is authorized to conduct and oversee all the business necessary to fulfill its mission, including strategic finances, planning, construction, management, customer service, and negotiations to contract for all services to that end.
The 2019 Vermont law that enables the formation of a CUD also permits the use of municipal revenue bonds to build a broadband network to serve member towns. This law also guarantees that the member towns’ taxpayers will not be liable for the repayment of any CUD indebtedness. Repayment is made by adding a fixed user fee to the subscribers’ monthly fees for broadband service.
Photo credit Marjorie Ray