Vermont Mulls Over Opt-In Decision

Gov. Phil Scott has 90 days to decide the future of Vermont’s public safety and broader telecom networks. The VTDigger reported there are several choices under consideration that include signing on with an agreement struck earlier this year between the federal FirstNet program and AT&T, assessing additional proposals from undisclosed sources, or the state building out its own system with $25 million in federal grant money.

If Vermont establishes its own network, there’s an opportunity to expand broadband and cell service in areas where it’s currently spotty, providing better service to rural areas and first responders. There’s a concern that FirstNet and AT&T’s plan may be better suited to larger, urban areas, according to Rep. Robin Chesnut-Tangerman, of Middletown Springs, a member of the House Energy and Technology Committee.

Gov. Scott’s decision to opt-in or opt-out of the proposed plan in late December will determine next steps. Some officials are concerned with the vagueness of the contract between AT&T and FirstNet, a program of the U.S. Department of Commerce. 

Additionally, AT&T’s initial proposal regarding “deployables” – trucks with mobile cell towers – for use in emergencies in remote areas, was unacceptable; AT&T projected it could take up to 14 hours to get to the scene of the incident, VTDigger reported. Terry LaValley, director of radio technology services for the Department of Public Safety and chairman of the state broadband commission, said the state is renegotiating this matter.

Chesnut-Tangerman said there does not appear to be a level playing field for opting-in or opting-out of the AT&T proposal. “What I’m afraid of is we’ll just kind of say, ‘Oh, yeah, this sounds good,’ and we’ll let AT&T develop a plan,” one that could come with “serious shortcomings and doesn’t really meet the needs of Vermont.”

Conversely, LaValley noted that it might be simpler for the state to sign on with FirstNet and AT&T. “We always worry about this total cost of any project. [The AT&T FirstNet proposal] is an offer that has been submitted that has no cost to the state,” he said, VTDigger reported.

October 10, 2017

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