Selectboard “threads the needle” on broadband

Selectboard “threads the needle” on broadband

By Robert Bloch, Contributor

The Selectboard considered a proposal to extend broadband access to the majority of the 239 households in Charlotte currently without access, and found a way to move forward, despite complications.

Although we all have moments when the deluge of “crap” (a technical term) (no comment) on the internet makes us seriously question the societal value of broadband internet access, the reality is that it has become essential to most of us for conducting business, educating our children and for providing access to, well, the world.

Today, most broadband is delivered to homes via fiber optic cable running down the street and into our homes.  WiFi, satellite and other technologies are also in the mix, but economics, actual performance and other factors impact these decisions.

Last week, the Selectboard considered a proposal from Waitsfield and Champlain Valley Telecom (WCVT) in which they would invest almost $2 million to extend its fiber optic network to the 219 of those 239 unserved households that are actually in its service area.  That’s about $10,000 per household. But WCVT is counting on other funding sources to complete the financing package: specifically, $43,829.81 from the Town of Charlotte, matched by the State of Vermont, plus a $273,000 grant from the Vermont Community Broadband Fund (VCBF), which requires evidence of local support to be triggered.

The town’s contribution, $43,829.81, clearly qualifies for funding from the Town’s $1.1 million ARPA allocation.  In other words, the project can be funded with no impact on the Town’s operating budget or local taxes.

While at this point the decision would seem to be quite simple, in fact, it was made more difficult by extraneous factors. The decision needed to be made quickly, as other Vermont towns are considering this program and WCVT’s inventory of fiber optic cable is limited. Supply chain issues cloud future availability of fiber optic. The second complicating factor was forcefully argued by Selectboard Chair Jim Faulkner. Last July, the Selectboard had committed to not allocate any ARPA funds until all community proposals had been aired at a public meeting.  The meeting had yet to be scheduled. Jim was adamant that the Selectboard not break that commitment despite the attractive and very time sensitive nature of the broadband proposal.  Following a long, heated, but civil debate the board found a solution.  Send the required commitment letter to the Vermont Community Broadband Fund, and quickly hold a special meeting of the Selectboard to hear other proposals for spending the ARPA dole.

The Selectboard voted unanimously to take this route, i.e., send the commitment letter to the VCBF, but not formally allocate the ARPA funds for the project until after the special meeting.

How and when broadband access would be provided to the 20 households outside WCVT’s service area was not addressed.

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