FAQ

NEK Community Broadband – Commonly Asked Questions

Our Goal

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.

Summary

High-speed internet is no longer a luxury, but a necessity. Unfortunately, It’s not financially appealing to internet companies to invest in infrastructure to serve our rural communities. We must set up our own networks to ensure access for all residents and businesses. 

How?

The first step is for towns in our region to form a Communications Union District (CUD). It will be known as “NEK Community Broadband”.

What’s a CUD?

A Communications Union District(CUD), is a municipality made of two or more towns for the purpose of building communication infrastructure together. Each town in the CUD has a seat on a governing board which will plan, contract, build, and manage the infrastructure that will provide high speed internet. For more see Title 30: Public Service, Chapter 82: Communications Union Districts in Vermont state statutes.

What do we gain by joining NEK Community Broadband?

The Town gets a seat at the table as critical regional infrastructure is designed and built.

What’s the cost to be a part of the CUD?

There are no direct costs to the taxpayer or the town, though a CUD may ask the town to provide space for a communications plant used to store fiber optic cable, electronics and other assets required to operate the network. 

What’s the risk to the taxpayer and towns?

Membership in a CUD poses no financial risk to the town or individual taxpayers, by state statute, meaning taxpayer dollars will not be used and if the CUD fails no liability falls to the member towns or taxpayers. The state statute (specifically – § 3056. Limitations; taxes; indebtedness and  § 3083. Dissolution) make it quite clear that the taxpayer and towns may not be held liable in any way for the debts of the CUD. All fiber assets and built infrastructure of the CUD are liable to seizure.(30 V.S.A. Chapter 82; see web address below).

How much will it cost to build the network?

We won’t know the estimated cost of the network until we know which towns are in the CUD and a network design has been engineered. Luckily, Northeastern Vermont Development Association has already secured grant funds to develop a business plan and conduct the initial network engineering for the CUD. Building a network is expensive but community based broadband projects like this qualify for large grants and very low interest loans. 

How will the money be raised and by who?

The CUD will be responsible for raising funds to build and operate the network through grants, loans, and bonds. In the next year there will be nearly $20 Billion in grants available through federal and state organizations like the FCC, USDA, EDA and Vermont Connectivity Fund. We will be well positioned to apply for these funds once the CUD is formed.

How long will it take?

Forming a CUD is just the first step in a multi-year process to plan, fund and build a network to deliver high-speed internet across our region.

Will it work?

Yes, we believe it will work. Across rural Vermont, substantial leaps in internet service have come from communities banding together or partnering with providers to build their own networks. ECFiber, Vermont’s first CUD formed in 2015, now delivers up to 700 mbps service to 3,500 customers in 22 rural towns and is profitable.

How can we join the district?

A town can join a CUD in two ways:

  • The initial CUD must be established through a town meeting day vote, where all initial member towns vote to form municipality.
  • After initial CUD is formed a member town can be added through a selectboard vote or another town meeting day vote

By voting yes on the CUD Article (just listen for “NEK Community Broadband”) at Town Meeting, you’re voicing your support for your town’s membership in the CUD. All towns that approve this ballot measure will become members of a CUD.

Can a town withdraw from the CUD?

  • A town can withdraw through the same means in which they joined the CUD (i.e a town meeting day vote or selectboard vote if the town joined after the CUD was initially formed.). 
  • All assets in town that are built by the CUD remain an asset of the CUD though customers within that town can still receive internet services. 

How many towns are in the NEK Community Broadband CUD?

As of January 13th, 2020 there were 27 towns in the NEK planning to vote to join the CUD. Additional towns may be added after the initial CUD creation. See map here.

What’s next after the Town Meeting Day vote?

Each town appoints a resident and an alternate to serve on the CUD board. That board will work to develop a feasible plan for building the network and raise funds to construct and manage it. Then we have an affordable, high-speed internet option. Of course, no one would be required to sign up for the new service. This just means we’ll have more and better options!

What about 5G?

The choice of technologies to use will be finalized by the CUD board. That said, 5G is only effectively transmits signal at 1000ft which is why it is only being deployed in dense urban environments.

Are there any reasons a town would not want to join?

The primary burden on a town will be to identify one or two residents interested in representing its residents on the CUD board. One reason not to join would be if a town does not foresee being able find representatives. Another reason might be to allow the town to pursue its own broadband solutions independently. However, nothing about joining the CUD precludes this from happening. 

How would the CUD governance be handled?

By statute, the district is governed by a Governing Board made up of one representative, and one or more alternates, from every member town. Each town delegation gets one vote on CUD decisions, with majority ruling in most cases. The CUD has the ability to establish an Executive Committee that could be delegated certain powers. This would be established in the bylaws as adopted at the CUDs first organizational meeting in May.

When would the network building happen?

The first step is to form the CUD, then the CUD will go through a feasibility and business planning process. The plan will help identify priority areas for building and be used to raise the intial funding.  We hope some of the initial funding will arrive in 2021. 

Which towns networks would be built first?

CUD will have serving all residents in the Northeast Kingdom as a primary goal. That said, the network will be built over time. The CUD board, which will have representation from each member town, will decide when and where the network will be built. Building may happen in more than one place at once. 

Who would the service provider be?

This would be determined by the CUD board, through an RFP process. Although unlikely, there could be more than one provider. There may be one provider contracted to build the network and another to operate it.  

Can individual towns do their own fundraising?

Yes, individual towns can raise their own funds but the CUD, with a large critical mass of underserved addresses being served, would be best positioned to do fundraising. 

What does “affordable” mean?

We have seen that other CUDs have been able to offer rates that are competitive with current telecom providers (or even cheaper). EC Fiber rates are here. It’s important to note that fiber is symmetrical service (same upload and download speeds) so it’s better than cable or DSL speeds. Either the CUD, or other organizations in the region, could develop programs to subsidize low-income Vermonters access to the service.