April 2021 DVFiber update: Funding for fiber advances in the legislature: Think of it. The Deerfield Valley Communications Union District (DVCUD) was established by five towns in April 2020. In just one year ago, 16 more towns joined--including Vernon in July of 2020 as the 15th town--a governing board formed and established three all-volunteer working committees, and nearly 60 people in three counties are working to secure broadband access for every premise and business in the district. The Chicken and the EggOne of the most intriguing challenges facing DVFiber (DVCUD’s public persona) is how to begin work while securing the promise of necessary funding. “We cannot build an infrastructure without major investment, and it’s extremely difficult to secure initial funding without a proven track record.” That’s Ann Manwaring, chair of DVFiber, musing on the conundrum facing all communications union districts (CUDs) in Vermont. Many extremely complicated issues must be addressed at the same time, especially centered on the goal of serving all residences and businesses, even to the last mile. DVFiber is not alone: This puzzle of how to obtain initial investment offers the most strenuous challenge to all of Vermont’s CUDs.Well, it appears that help may well be on the way. Thanks to the ardent leadership of the House Committee on Energy and Technology (and the heroic efforts from Rep. Laura Sibilia, from DVFiber’s district), it seems that significant funding is likely to move from the federal government to the state and on to CUDs, through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the latest round of COVID-19 assistance from Washington, DC. The Vermont House has advanced H.360, a sweeping, game-changing bill intended to support the groundwork of Vermont’s CUDs. “We need a paradigm shift in order to build broadband to the last mile in Vermont. This bill intends to provide coordination, to require accountability, to focus on universal service, not just connectivity to the most profitable customers,” said Rep. Laura Sibilia, vice chair of the House Committee on Energy and Technology, which is sponsoring the bill that calls for significant investment in the state’s CUDs and for the establishment of appropriate infrastructure to oversee development and support. While specific funding details were not available at press time, there can be no question about the intent of this legislation and the support behind it. What’s the latest news?Three important developments:1. Despite DVCUD’s expansion having slowed a bit, Winhall was welcomed into the district on February 24, 2021., and there are other towns considering joining.  DVCUD now encompasses 21 towns in Windham, Bennington, and Windsor counties. To get a sense of the reach of all nine CUDs in Vermont, visit the statewide map at https://publicservice.vermont.gov/sites/dps/files/documents/CUDs_v2_March24.pdf. This map reveals which towns are currently working in a communications union district, as well as which towns are currently unaffiliated. We recently learned that nearly 400 expert volunteers are at work on broadband projects statewide!2. To reach its goals, DVFiber will soon enter a public/private partnership with an existing Internet service provider. On February, 4, 2021, DVFiber issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) from interested potential partners. The response deadline was in late March and nearly a dozen companies submitted proposals. DVFiber’s governing board, on advice from the Vendor Committee, will select a partner soon with the intent of beginning work this summer. While there remains much to negotiate, there is strong reason to believe that DVFiber is on a clear path to securing broadband service for all residences and businesses in the district. And yet, patience will be required. (You will hear this repeatedly!)3. DVFiber recently entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Southern Vermont Communications Union District (SoVT CUD). You may not know that two towns in DVCUD are also members of SoVT CUD, Londonderry and Winhall. While there are historical and cultural differences between the two districts, the two governing boards determined that working cooperatively and openly will advance the statewide goal of providing last mile broadband technology for all Vermonters.Intrigued? Want to get involved?Soon, there will be an enormous amount of work required to secure customers for DVFiber right here in Vernon. We will need your help: The district is powered solely by volunteers. Contact Munson Hicks at debandmunson@mac.com or Bronna Zlochiver at bronna.zlochiver@gmail.com to learn how you can help.Visit DVFiber’s website at dvfiber.net and subscribe to the DVFiber newsletter. DVFiber now has a Facebook page. If you use Facebook, please Like the page (search for DVFiber, or follow this link: https://www.facebook.com/DVFiber-113984150471692) and watch for more news of DVFiber’s growth and progress in the Vernon Community News and on the Vernon Facebook Group page.

TEST TW WEATHER

Vernon, how’s your internet?

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has revealed our need for equitable, reliable Internet connections. Prior to the appearance of COVID, a quicker Internet connection might have been considered a promising addition to our increasingly interconnected lives. Now, it is commonly understood to be a stark necessity. For education. For healthcare. For work. 

In recent months, we’ve heard about the nascent efforts of the Deerfield Valley Communications Union District (DVCUD). Still in the early stages of framing up, the DVCUD now operates as DVFiber, a municipal business with a mission to provide high-speed Internet for all in the current 15-town district.  

DVFiber’s values are equity, performance, affordability, reliability, and privacy. You can read more about DVFiber’s vision and principles (and learn more about the organization) at dvfiber.org

All good, but “When?” 

The question most often asked about high-speed broadband for Vernon is “When?” “When will my household have a faster, more reliable connection?”  

The quick answer: Probably not as soon as any of us would like. The job of securing a reliable connection for every district household and business is complex. The current corporate-based infrastructure will not support equitable access, so it’s not a matter of ‘just hooking up.’ DVFiber is a wholly new business. New physical and business systems need to be designed and built. Proposed physical build-outs will reach least-served areas first (Vernon, taken in total, and in comparison with other towns, is fairly well served). As realistic timelines go, the soonest a connection can be made is about two years. The outside prediction for full connection throughout the district is five years. So, we will all have to be patient.

Another often-asked question is “How much will I pay?” At this point, with so much still not known, it is impossible to guess at what monthly household or business costs might be. DVFiber plans to offer a tiered pricing option (like successful models elsewhere). DVFiber, unlike certain communications corporations, is clearly well-suited to honor its commitment to equity and affordability. 

How will we reach the goal? 

The Windham Regional Commission played a catalytic role once the Governor signed the legislation that enabled formation of CUDs in Vermont. As part of its commitment to broadband, WRC won a grant that allowed completion of a regional survey, a feasibility study (which landed positively) and a business plan that includes an engineering plan, market analysis, sequence and schedule of work, finance models, and estimated construction costs. This plan, now handed to DVFiber, frames the work to bring fast, reliable connection to this corner of Vermont.  

DVFiber itself is governed by a board (one representative from each member town) and is organized into three committees, each with task forces—all hard at work. The Vendor Committee focuses on evaluating engineering and determining best operations models; the Finance Committee focuses on establishing proper business procedures and protocols as well as developing financial support models; the Communications Committee works to expand awareness and understanding for the broader community as well as for the board itself. 

To this point, all work is done by volunteers. DVFIber has no paid employees. Munson Hicks, Vernon’s representative, and Bronna Zlochiver, Vernon’s alternate representative, can attest to the incredible commitment and energy levels involved.

DVFiber is one of eight communications union districts in Vermont. Only one CUD existed prior to March 2020, more evidence that things are moving at break-neck speed. The eight have banded together into an association of mutual learning and strategy building, called the Vermont Communications Union District Association (VCUDA), and the group meets regularly and often. 

Intrigued? Want to get involved?

There is an enormous amount of work to be done to secure broadband for Vernon and this part of Vermont. You can learn more by visiting dvfiber.org. Sign up for the newsletter. Contact Munson or Bronna if you have specific skills that you’d like to offer the effort. We can be reached at debandmunson@mac.com or bronna.zlochiver@gmail.com.