Blazing the Broadband Trail
As the beginning of construction draws closer on our 1,200-mile fiber network, the challenges are mounting up. This is not unexpected. Building the network is a complicated process with many interdependent parts. We are ordering materials, finishing up pole inventory, conducting make-ready work, refining design plans, negotiating with pole owners for network access, and obtaining rights of way and other clearances. At the same time, we’re working on pricing, marketing, and communications plans for the launch of service and a budget for the new year. It’s a lot of work, but it’s all in the plan. Given all that has been accomplished already, there’s no doubt the network will be built!
Here are the headlines:
- CVFiber has adopted a strong net neutrality policy.
- We have found enough warehouse space to meet our storage needs.
- We’re meeting with contractors who have bid for network construction.
- The network design is getting some fine tuning from experts in the field.
- We’ll soon award a contract for public engagement and marketing.
- We are working with our service provider to plan for launch of service.
- Work has begun on CVFiber’s budget for 2023.
- The Inflation Reduction Act will offer some new grant opportunities.
And now, the details.
Net Neutrality Policy
Warehouse Space Secured
Having ordered enough materials for roughly one-third of the total network, we’re going to need places to put all that stuff. And now we have them! We’ve leased two centrally located warehouse spaces in Montpelier that total 5,000 square feet. We also continue to store giant reels of fiber at Washington Electric Coop. “The space looks great and it’s in a great location,” said Jennille Smith, CVFiber Executive Director. “We’ll have office space there so we can keep up with deliveries and inventory.”
Meeting With Potential Construction Partners
Over the past two weeks, CVFiber has been meeting with contractors who submitted bids for network construction. We’re giving them all the necessary information on our progress so they can give us an idea of when they could do the work. The goal is to launch construction in October. Schedules, materials, and weather permitting, we’re aiming to complete 100 miles of our 1,200-mile network by year’s end.
Working Out the Design Details
Our high-level network design is complete, but now it must be checked against real world conditions. We’re meeting twice a week with field engineers from the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative to finalize the design. The engineers are traveling around the CVFiber district, examining conditions on the ground and adjusting the design when necessary. For instance, they might find an unexpected gap between utility poles that might require an additional pole or an underground solution. Then the plan would be amended to account for the gap. Details, details, details.
Putting on Our Outward Face
We’re hoping to connect some customers by the end of the year. That means we’d better be ready to step up our communication game and develop marketing plans. We’re in the final stages of approving a contract for public engagement and marketing. “We’ve had some very promising responses to our request for bids,” Smith noted. The goal is to award a contract with our chosen vendor by the end of the month.
Preparing to Onboard
CVFiber is beginning to hold regular meetings with network operator Waitsfield and Champlain Valley Telecom (WCVT) to prepare for installation of service and bringing customers on board. Service will be reaching some addresses within months, so we’ll need to have the customer service basics ready to go. WCVT is, like CVFiber, a locally owned and locally oriented Internet service provider with a strong emphasis on customer service.
2023 Budget in the Works
It’s close enough to the end of the year that work has begun on our budget for
the year 2023. This is like aiming at a fast-moving target, since 2023 will be the first full year of construction activity. It’s a much different animal, but in a way it’s more predictable than past years when activity was more measured but full of surprises. Going forward, we have solid business and construction plans which have passed muster with the Vermont Community Broadband Board. There are always unexpected wrinkles and all plans are subject to change, but we’re as prepared as we can be for any contingency. (All budgets and annual reports are viewable on our Financials webpage.)
Another Federal Grant Opportunity
The recently passed federal Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) includes a new grant program for rural broadband. It’s called BEAD, or Broadband Equity Access Deployment. The program is aimed at funding efforts to provide affordable broadband to the underserved. The total allocation for BEAD is $5 billion, so this is much smaller than earlier federal efforts. The program’s rules are still being written. CVFiber isn’t likely to realize a large grant, but every grant dollar is one dollar we don’t have to borrow, and that means lower rates for our customers.
Connect With CVFiber
You can reach out to your representatives on the Governing Board, which includes one delegate and one or more alternate(s) from each of our 21 communities. A list of delegates and alternates can be found on our Governing Board page or you can contact your delegation through our Contact page. You may see vacancies for delegates and alternates. Contact your community’s Select Board or City Council if you are interested in joining a team that is making universal broadband in central Vermont a reality.
You could also volunteer to serve on one of our committees: Communications, Finance & Audit, Planning & Development, and Policy. This is a community-run effort that relies heavily on volunteers. The more people who are involved, the stronger we are.
We also send regular updates to everyone on our email list. If you’d like to add yourself to the list, you can use the “Subscribe to our Newsletter” option on the CVFiber homepage.