Leahy, Sanders, Welch, Douglas: Vermont Nets $47 M. To Build Broadband Infrastructure

WASHINGTON (Friday, July 2) – Sen. Patrick Leahy (D), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I), Rep. Peter Welch (D) and Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas (R) Friday announced the largest public investment in broadband infrastructure ever made in Vermont.  Federal agencies have awarded two Vermont telecommunication organizations a total of $47.1 million in federal economic recovery grants to build fiber optic networks that will help form the core of Vermont’s broadband network.  The new funds will be used to wire “anchor institutions” across the state and bring high-capacity, lightning-fast, affordable broadband bandwidth closer to end users.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke told Leahy, Sanders and Welch that Locke Friday would be announcing that the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) is awarding a $33.4 million grant to the Vermont Telecommunications Authority (VTA) and a $13.7 million grant to the Vermont Telephone Company (VTEL) through NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP).  The two grants are part of a $7.2 billion broadband investment program that Congress and President Obama crafted as part of last year’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Both grants are awarded through BTOP’s Comprehensive Community Infrastructure program, under which NTIA, according the agency, solicited “projects to deploy new or improved broadband internet facilities and to connect ‘community anchor institutions’ such as schools, libraries, hospitals, and public safety facilities.  These networks help ensure sustainable community growth and provide the foundation for enhanced household and business broadband internet services.”  For more information about the program visit http://www2.ntia.doc.gov/about.

VTA will use the funds to build Vermont Fiber Link, a statewide, mid-mile fiber network increasing bandwidth and reducing broadband costs to state offices, healthcare institutions, schools and other critical customers.  Springfield-based VTEL will use the $13.7 million grant to create an open-network middle-mile hub-and-spoke fiber network to schools, colleges, public safety facilities, healthcare facilities, and telecommunications providers. 

On May 12th, Leahy, Sanders and Welch wrote to Secretary Locke in support of both the VTA proposal and the VTEL proposal.  (The text of the letter is below.)

“This is a major infrastructure investment in the future of Vermont’s economy,” said Leahy.  “VTA and VTEL submitted applications that address a crucial need – laying a more comprehensive web of broadband-carrying fiber optic transmission lines to users across the state.”  Leahy, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, who pressed for inclusion of broadband infrastructure funding during drafting of the economic recovery package, added, “These federal investments are the largest public investments in boosting broadband access in Vermont‘s history, and the benefits will ripple throughout our economy, bringing lightning-fast bandwidth much closer to end users.  Both VTA and VTEL will lay fiber where it does not exist today.  This is the vital first step in delivering state-of-the-art broadband service to every Vermonter.”

“Every day I hear from Vermonters upset about inadequate broadband service in our state,” said Sanders, who has long been an advocate of affordable and universal broadband service. “This $47 million award of federal grants will bring Vermont broadband service into the 21st century. It will improve our business climate and help our schools, colleges, hospitals and other medical facilities perform better. It must also pave the way for reasonably-priced broadband services for virtually every household in the state of Vermont.”

“It is no overstatement to say that the future of Vermont’s economy depends upon the swift and complete deployment of broadband throughout our state. Yet Vermont continues to lag behind, preventing families, businesses, schools and hospitals from joining the digital age,” said Welch, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet. “This grant is a major boost to Vermont’s communications infrastructure. It will provide broadband access to key institutions and bring us closer to our goal of a truly connected state.”

"Ensuring that all Vermonters have access to broadband service is a top priority of mine," said Governor Douglas.  "We've been working hard to achieve that goal through the e-State initiative, the VTA and support of other broadband initiatives."  Douglas, who launched the e-State initiative in 2007 that led to the creation of the VTA, noted that during the past legislative session Vermont invested $2 million in the Capital Bill that will contribute to this project and another nearly $3 million for his Backroads Broadband program to help service those hardest to reach Vermonters.  "The success of this application is the result of so many working together with a shared vision.  As a result we are closer to achieving our goal, while creating jobs today and strengthening our economy for the future," he added.

Friday’s announcement complements an announcement Leahy, Sanders and Welch made earlier this year of a $69 million Department of Energy American Recovery and Reinvestment Act smart grid grant.  That grant will be used to deploy technology, including high-speed internet access and fiber optic infrastructure, to better manage power demand and supply.

The United States Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Service, which also solicited applications for broadband infrastructure funding as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, has not yet announced if any Vermont applicants will receive funding.

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May 12, 2010

Mr. Jonathan Adelstein                                                  Mr. Lawrence Strickling
Administrator                                                                 Assistant Secretary
United States Department of Agriculture                      United States Department of Commerce
Rural Utilities Service                                                   National Telecommunications and
STOP 1590                                                                    Information Administration
1400 Independence Ave., SW, Rm 5151                      1401 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20250                                                 Washington, DC 20230

Dear Administrator Adelstein and Assistant Secretary Strickling:

We are writing in support of several critical broadband infrastructure proposals submitted by Vermont organizations to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) and the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) Broadband Technology Opportunity Improvement Program (BTOP). 

Each week our offices receive multiple pleas from Vermonters desperate for access to affordable, high-speed internet access.  These constituents are disadvantaged compared to many Americans and citizens of countries around the world who enjoy exponentially faster internet access speeds at a fraction of the cost compared to rural Vermonters’ access speeds and rates.  Those with inadequate access to the internet suffer economically, socially and physically as advancements in e-commerce, telecommuting, telemedicine and e-learning become more and more pervasive. 

Messages from constituents like those mentioned above, and a recognition by the President and Members of Congress that rural America remains underserved by our existing telecommunications infrastructure, resulted in the inclusion of $7.2 billion in broadband infrastructure funding in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to build broadband infrastructure.  This investment aimed to connect millions of Americans to the internet at internationally competitive speeds and rates better positioning them to compete in tomorrow’s economy and aimed to put thousands of Americans to work in the telecommunications industry of today. 

A recent University of Vermont Center for Rural Studies poll showed that only 69 percent of Vermonters have access to high-speed internet access.  National data used to prepare the NTIA’s own February 2010 Digital Nation: 21st Century America’s Progress Towards Universal Broadband Internet Access reported that Vermont ranked 38th in the nation for broadband availability.  Despite these appalling numbers, Vermont failed to receive a single Recovery Act-funded broadband infrastructure grant in Round 1.  While our home state was fortunate to receive NTIA grants for broadband mapping and broadband aggregation, we feel it is vitally important that Vermont, one of the nation’s most rural states with many underserved rural communities, benefit from the Recovery Act’s broadband infrastructure program.

A number of Vermont for-profit and non-profit organizations have submitted proposals to RUS BIP and NTIA BTOP.  We wanted to bring your attention to these proposals in hopes that RUS and NTIA can help Vermont address its critical telecommunications infrastructure needs in Round 2. 

 Vermont NTIA Broadband Technology Opportunities Program Applicants

  • Vermont Electrical Cooperative:  A $4.6 million proposal to connect 154 anchor institutions to a fiber network in Northern Vermont.
  • Vermont Telecommunications Authority:  A $33.4 million proposal to create Vermont Fiber Link, a statewide, mid-mile fiber network increasing bandwidth and reducing broadband costs to state offices, healthcare institutions, schools and other critical customers.
  • Vermont Telephone Company:  A $13.7 million proposal to create an open-network middle-mile hub-and-spoke fiber network to schools, colleges, public safety facilities, healthcare facilities, and telecommunications providers.

Vermont RUS Broadband Initiatives Program

  • East Central Vermont Fiber Network:  A $44 million loan and grant proposal to build a universal, open-access, fiber-to-the-home system to 18 Vermont towns including libraries, town offices, schools, community facilities, households and businesses.
  • Vermont Telephone Company:  A $118 million loan and grant proposal to create an open-network serving 61,497 Vermont premises comprising all 33,165 un-served households, with Tri-Band 4G/LTE mobile broadband, plus fiber-to-the-home to all VTel premises.
  • Waitsfield Champlain Valley Telecom:  A $5.6 million loan and grant proposal to provide fiber-to-the-home technology and offer connection speeds between 5 and 100 Mbps. 

We appreciate your fair and timely consideration of these proposals, and look forward to working with you to ensure Americans across the country have affordable high speed internet access as quickly as possible. 

Should you have any questions about our support of these applications, please feel free to contact us directly.


PATRICK LEAHY                       BERNIE SANDERS                        PETER WELCH
United States Senator                    United States Senator                      United States Representative

Press Contact

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