NORTHEAST KINGDOM – NEK Broadband has selected partners to build and operate a fiber optic broadband network in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. The project will deliver high-speed internet to Northeast Kingdom residents and businesses.
At a NEK Broadband meeting on September 9, the Communications Union District (CUD), made up of 45 member towns, approved a joint partnership with Mission Broadband, the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC), and Waitsfield and Champlain Valley Telecom (WCVT).
This partnership will bring high-speed fiber-optic internet service to unserved and underserved addresses (with access to less than 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload internet speeds) in Essex, Caledonia and Orleans counties. The new partners bring experience building and operating rural fiber-optic internet networks.
NEK Broadband plans to build a fiber-optic network that can deliver internet service speeds up to a gigabit per second to approximately 20,000 underserved households. This requires construction of more than 2,500 miles of fiber-optic cable. Although the goal is to complete the project in five years, there are many variables, such as availability of materials and skilled labor, that are beyond local control, and it could take up to seven years to complete. New service is expected to be available in some areas by the end of 2022. The partners will leverage state and federal grant funding available to communication union districts for internet improvement projects.
“Creating a universally available, fast, reliable and affordable internet option as soon as we can is critical to meeting the economic, educational, health and social needs of our residents and businesses,” said Christa Shute, NEK Broadband’s interim executive director.
“This partnership brings real-life expertise and commitment to the development of public fiber infrastructure by combining our local resources with a third-generation, family-owned Vermont internet service provider and a telecom cooperative with national reach,” Shute added.
The three chosen partners jointly submitted one of seven responses to NEK Broadband’s request for
partnership released in June. The process of doing interviews and related fact-finding was performed by a subcommittee of NEK Broadband governing board members.
According to Jim Rogers, president of Mission Broadband, “This project includes vast, rural, and difficult-to-serve counties. Our decades of experience working in Vermont, combined with the expertise of our partners and coordination with NEK communities, will ensure that we reach our common goal of bringing affordable and reliable internet service to all unserved and underserved areas.”
“NRTC is a member-owned cooperative, and this type of undertaking is what we are all about. We plan to leverage our considerable experience of building more than 40 broadband deployments and 100,000-plus miles of fiber in similar rural communities across the country,” said Jim DaBramo, president of NRTC Broadband Solutions.
Eric Haskin, president and CEO of Waitsfield and Champlain Valley Telecom stated, “We recognize the importance of this project. Our decades-long experience bringing fiber-optic internet to our own customers in Vermont will enable NEK Broadband to activate service to customers more quickly than would otherwise be possible.”
NEK Broadband is currently working through the details of planning, design, and engineering for various stages of the project. Building a fiber-optic network won’t happen overnight and takes a great deal of capital. The organization is actively applying for state and federal grants, having recently been awarded $276,000 for pre-construction work.
The NEK Community Broadband Communications Union District (commonly referred to as NEK Broadband) is a not-for-profit municipal entity that is working towards making affordable, reliable internet service available to underserved households and businesses within member towns in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. NEK Broadband was officially formed in March of 2020, and now includes 45 member towns: Albany, Barnet, Barton, Brighton, Brownington, Brunswick, Burke, Canaan, Charleston, Concord, Coventry, Craftsbury, Danville, Derby, East Haven, Glover, Greensboro, Groton, Guildhall, Hardwick, Holland, Irasburg, Kirby, Lowell, Lyndon, Maidstone, Morgan, Newark, Newport City, Newport Town, Peacham, Ryegate, Sheffield, St. Johnsbury, Stannard, Sutton, Troy, United Towns of Gores, Walden, Waterford, Westfield, Westmore, Wheelock and Wolcott.