Last week, the Vermont State House of Representatives approved H.B. 360, aimed at expanding broadband access across the state to meet the goal of delivering universal service by 2024. The bill intends to help create a new state broadband office — the Vermont Community Broadband Authority.
Broadband Breakfast reported that the House voted 145-1 in favor of the bill, with bipartisan support. If passed, the bill would help fund and organize the deployment of broadband infrastructure across the state’s nine Communications Union Districts (CUDs) and their potential partners. The partners will be tasked with completing the “last-mile” and include electric distribution utilities, nonprofit organizations, the federal government, and private Internet Service Providers.
According to Broadband Breakfast, Vermont’s CUDs were formed to distribute broadband funds across the state to provide reliable service. Since the onset of the pandemic last year, the CUDs have petitioned for federal funding assistance, and H.B. 360 includes a $150 million request. Based on a report commissioned by Vermont’s Department of Public Services, it will cost an estimated $1 billion to deploy broadband to the 254,000 locations (82 percent of the state) that are unserved.
In addition, the CUDs are hoping for little to no constraints in how they can spend federal grant money coming from the American Rescue Plan Act, and the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund, which will award state block grants. Broadband Breakfast reported that states would be awarded between $100 million and $500 million for projects, including telecommunications.
According to Carole Monroe, CEO of ValleyNet (CUD), last year’s CARES Act funding had too many restrictions, and she’s cautiously optimistic about future funding. Monroe said that for CUDs to be self-supporting, they need enough capital to operate for three years. If expected funding comes in the form of “block grants to the state, it will make it much easier to move forward” because Vermont has a strategic and well-developed plan, she noted.