ST. ALBANS — Fiber optic cable is the thread on which much of Christine Hallquist’s campaign for governor hangs.
While it isn’t the only issue for the Democratic candidate, it is one that is central to her plans for economic development in the state’s rural areas and bolstering the state’s population.
Under Hallquist’s proposal, electric utilities would be allowed to hang fiber optic cable on their existing poles, alongside electric lines. Internet providers would then pay the utilities to access the cable, that amount would be included in what the consumer pays to their internet service provider.
The price of electric utilities installing fiber optic cable is half that being paid by internet service provides, according to Hallquist. In addition, the utility companies can borrow funding for infrastructure over 30 years rather than the 15 years internet companies are limited to, she said.
That access will help make Vermont a more attractive place to live, in her view.
“We can change the demographics in Vermont,” said Hallquist.
Challenged on the idea that a 20-year national trend of people leaving rural areas for urban ones could be countered so easily, Hallquist compared the lack of high-speed internet access now to the lack of electricity in rural areas in the 1930s. People were leaving rural areas then, too, but that changed when rural areas were electrified, according to Hallquist.
“Nobody is going to build a business if can’t get connected,” she said. “Fiber optic cable is as important as electricity was.”
High-speed internet access would also be beneficial for farmers, she said, allowing them to sell value-added products to customers around the world. Hallquist pointed to Hardwick’s food hub with its shared production facilities as a model for other rural communities.
She suggested there could be a role for the state in helping to build similar facilities in other parts of Vermont.
Selling value-added products, including online, is something Vermont’s maple sugar makers are already doing, Hallquist noted.
“It’s not the blueberries you’re going to make money on, it’s the blueberry jam,” she said.
When it comes to education, Hallquist focused in on the importance of schools to small towns, stating, “You start closing small schools and you lose the towns.”
However, all of the school closures in Vermont have been approved by local voters and Act 46 bars the state from closing schools. Opponents to school district mergers required under the act have nevertheless made school closures a rallying cry.
“We’re not going to close rural schools under my leadership,” said Hallquist.
“Barking orders out of Montpelier… only makes the situation worse,” she said, referring to the battles occurring between some towns and the State Board of Education, which, under state law, is charged with determining which of the school districts that failed to merge voluntarily must be required to do so.
Polarity, she said, happens when people don’t listen.
As an example of her belief that open conversation can make a difference, Hallquist cited a conversation she recently had with a man in his 20s at her favorite watering hole in Morrisville. According to Hallquist, the man sat beside her at the bar and said that liberals and their support for welfare queens are the problem.
Hallquist said she replied, “Let me talk about the $30 million CEO who doesn’t pay taxes.”
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