Bring a reliable and affordable high-speed internet option (at least 100 mbps symmetrical) to every residential and business e911 address in the Northeast Kingdom.
High-speed internet is no longer a luxury, but a necessity for students, families, small businesses and farmers alike. Unfortunately, it has not been financially appealing to major internet service providers to invest in infrastructure to serve our rural communities. We must set up our own network to ensure access for all residents and businesses.
Since March of 2020, thirty-two towns in our region have formed a Communications Union District (CUD). It is known as “NEK Community Broadband.”
A Communications Union District (CUD) consists of two or more towns joined for the purpose of building communication infrastructure. Each town in the CUD has a seat on a governing board which will plan, contract, build, and manage infrastructure that will provide high speed internet. For additional information, please see Title 30: Public Service, Chapter 82: Communications Union Districts in Vermont state statutes.
Each town gets a seat at the table and contributes to the process of building this critical regional infrastructure.
There are no direct costs to the taxpayer or the town, though we may ask a town to provide space to store fiber optic cable, electronics and other assets required to operate the network. Once service is available, customers will pay a monthly fee for service. This fee has not yet been determined, but the goal is for it to be widely affordable.
Membership poses no financial risk to the town or individual taxpayers. Taxpayer dollars will not be used and, if any CUD fails, the member towns and taxpayers assume no liability. The state statutes (specifically – § 3056. Limitations; taxes; indebtedness and § 3083. Dissolution) make it clear that taxpayers and towns may not be held liable in any way for the debts of the CUD.
Building a fiber optic network is expensive (i.e., tens of millions of dollars), but community-based broadband projects like ours qualify for large grants and very low interest loans, including municipal bonds. Once service has been established, income from customers will also support expansion. Our initial feasibility study has been completed and shows areas in the district that can be cash-flow positive in three years. These areas have enough homes and businesses to pay for the cost of the construction and operation of the fiber-optic infrastructure required.
In order to be successful in receiving loans, we must show that we have income to repay them.
NEK Community Broadband is responsible for raising funds to build and operate the network through grants, loans, and bonds. Over the next year, there will be grants available to improve rural infrastructure and, possibly, significant grant funding available through additional COVID Relief Funds. NEK Community Broadband is well-positioned to apply for and receive grant funding through these sources.
In 2021, we will begin with a $4-5 million dollar build-out of our fiber optic network.
NEK Community Broadband is developing a detailed five-year plan which will provide member towns with a better idea about when each part of their area will be served. The five-year plan will focus on underserved areas. The goal is for this plan to be completed and available to the public by July 2021.
In rural east-central Vermont, substantial leaps in internet service have already been made through the work of ECFiber. Formed in 2008, ECFiber is a CUD that now delivers up to 800 mbps service to over 5,400 customers in 27 rural towns and is profitable.
Any town in the NEK can join. It is a basic two-step process:
1) The selectboard may vote to join or choose to hold a vote on town meeting day or special meeting.
2) Our Governing Board will then vote to accept them.
The town will appoint a resident and an alternate to serve on the Governing Board.
- A town can withdraw through the same means in which they joined (i.e. a town meeting day vote or selectboard vote).
- Even if a town withdraws, customers within that town will still receive internet services.
As of January 2021, there are 32 towns. A listing of them can be found on the NEK Broadband website at http://nekbroadband.org/town-representatives.
NEK Community Broadband is focused on fiber optic infrastructure because it provides the fastest, most reliable internet service for the long term.
By statute, the Governing Board is made up of one representative, and one or more alternates, from every member town. Each town delegation gets one vote on decisions, with majority ruling in most cases. Bylaws and policies have been established and Executive, Finance, Communication, and Technical Committees have been created.
“Serving all residents in the Northeast Kingdom” is a primary goal. That said, the network will be built over several years, with projects in multiple towns likely to be undertaken simultaneously. The detailed five-year plan will provide more information about the order in which areas will be served.
This will be determined by the Governing Board, through a Request For Proposals (RFP) process. There could be more than one provider and/or one provider contracted to build the network and another to operate it.
Yes, individual towns can raise their own funds. That said, the CUD, with a large critical mass of underserved addresses in our region, is well-positioned to do fundraising.
EC Fiber has demonstrated that this grass-roots structure can offer rates that are competitive with – or cheaper than – current internet providers. EC Fiber rates are here – https://www.ecfiber.net/pricing/. It’s important to note that fiber is symmetrical service (same upload and download speeds) so it’s much better than cable or DSL speeds. In addition, it may be possible to develop programs to subsidize low-income Vermonters’ access to the service.
- Visit (Like) our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/nekcommunitybroadband.
- Attend Governing Board meetings (held on the second Thursday of each month from 5:30-7:00 via Zoom). You can find agendas, minutes, and instructions for joining at https://nekbroadband.org
- Look up your town’s CUD representative to the Governing Board at https://nekbroadband.org
- Contact your representatives and encourage their support for federal and state funding for broadband infrastructure