A plan to invest nearly a quarter-billion dollars of federal stimulus money into broadband expansion would impact many in Franklin County, where nearly half of all homes have no, or slow internet.

Gov. Phil Scott released his proposal for the state's allocation of American Rescue Plan funding April 6. Broadband access is one of the five major areas where Scott proposed spending the $1 billion in federal stimulus money for the state. Other areas of investment are economic development, climate change, water and sewer infrastructure, and housing.

In Franklin County, there are 2,091 homes unserved, meaning they don’t have any form of connectivity, and 6,602 underserved, meaning they don’t meet the FCC standards for broadband, said Sean Kio of the Northwest Communications Union District. That means about 47% of all homes in Franklin County are underserved.

Kio said it’s realistic to cover all those underserved and unserved locations within the three years set in the governor's plan.

“Northwest is a unique area, it's very broad, you know, the address, the premises, or the homes are spread out a little bit more than certain areas. So that creates some logistical and financial challenges,” Kio said.

“Our objective is to do fiber,” said Kio.

He thinks that fiber can have significant longterm socio-economic impacts because it provides quality service and it's affordable. The only downside is that it takes time.

"There are quicker technologies that can be deployed but you are sacrificing that in five to 10 years the service might not be good enough to the day's standards. What's adequate now, in 10 years it's gonna not seem like a lot," Kio said.

Broadband remains a key issue in Vermont. About 60,000 locations in Vermont are without broadband, according to Scott’s proposal.

Broadband access is a major problem for many students, said Jay Nichols of the Vermont’s Principals’ Association at the first “Seat at the Table,” a virtual meeting series hosted by Lt. Gov. Molly Gray intended to get input from Vermonters on key issues in communities.

In late March, when the White House released The American Jobs Plan, one of the stated goals was to revitalize the country's digital infrastructure. President Joe Biden wants Congress to invest $100 billion to give every American access to high-speed internet.

“Broadband internet is the new electricity. It is necessary for Americans to do their jobs, to participate equally in school learning, health care, and to stay connected. Yet, by one definition, more than 30 million Americans live in areas where no broadband infrastructure provides minimally acceptable speeds,” read a White House fact sheet.

Kio said they are paying close attention to what lawmakers are doing and continuing to engage with senators and advocates for communications districts to be involved and are advocating for additional funding. Northwest Communications Union District is now in the business planning phase of receiving the money.

”We feel that making agreements with several different providers to provide services over an open-access network is the best route. For us, we think when there are some significant advantages and quality of service and affordability,” Kio said.

Editor’s note: This article was written by Madison Froelich, a reporter with the Community News Service, a collaboration with the University of Vermont’s Reporting & Documentary Storytelling program.

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