Thanks to the steady progress we’ve made in recent weeks, we are now confident that construction of our high-speed fiber network will begin this fall. We’re aiming to build roughly 100 miles this year and begin connecting subscribers in early 2023.
The pace is as frenetic as that Lucy Show scene at the candy wrapping line. But unlike Lucy and Ethel, we’re keeping up with the pace. We’re fine-tuning our network design, getting everything ready in the field, and keeping up with materials delivery and storage, planning the subscription process. We’re dotting I’s and crossing T’s on construction contracts, making sure the design is in sync with realities on the ground, and securing storage for all our materials. Unforeseen circumstances can always arise, but we’re addressing them as soon as they appear.
The headlines in this month’s update:
- Member towns have committed $833,000 in ARPA funds to CVFiber.
- We provided a full update in a webinar on September 21.
- Plans and schedules are being worked out with construction contractors.
- The make-ready process continues.
- Engineers are refining our design down to every nut and bolt.
- We have enough storage space for all materials already ordered.
- Subscription rates are being worked out with an eye toward accessibility, affordability, and financial sustainability.
- We’re preparing a budget for 2023, our first full year of construction.
And now, the details.
Member Towns Respond to the Call
“Really incredible stuff,” said CVFiber Executive Director Jennille Smith of a closing rush of community commitments to CVFiber. Thirteen of our member towns have pledged, or already given, portions of their American Rescue Plan Act funds to CVFiber. The total so far is $833,000, and every dollar will be matched by the Vermont Community Broadband Board. It adds up to an impressive $1.66 million for the fiber buildout.
Towns and grants: Cabot $50,000, Calais $200,000, Duxbury $20,000, East Montpelier $100,000, Middlesex $100,000, Moretown $50,000, Northfield $90,000, Orange $30,000, Roxbury $20,000, Washington $20,000, Waterbury $50,000, Woodbury $50,000, and Worcester $53,000.
It’s still possible that another grant or two will come through. In any case, we’re highly gratified by the response. As a reminder, each town’s grant and the VCBB match will all be spent within that town’s borders.
Webinar Available for Viewing
CVFiber leaders held an informational webinar on September 21, providing a full update on our plans for building the network, connecting subscribers, pricing our service and more. We plan on holding webinars every other month. The 9/21 webinar is available at our website. We are planning to hold another webinar in November.
Plans for Construction Launch This Fall
We are close to awarding contracts for network construction. We’re in communication with bidders, informing them of our needs and prospective schedule so they can formulate their plans. One piece of good news: The contractors believe they’ll be able to continue work through the winter season, although at a much slower pace. That will help us get a solid start on the plan for 2023, which involves building another 600 miles of network. Ambitious but doable.
The Painstaking Make-Ready Process
“Make-ready” is a necessary preliminary step to actual construction, but it’s fraught with potential complications and delays. So far, things have gone smoothly and we’re making good progress. Make-ready includes communicating with the owner of each utility pole we want to connect to (most belong to one of three electric utilities that serve portions of the district), running an assessment of each pole’s capacity and preparedness, agreeing on the cost of make ready for each pole, and getting final permission from the owner. Every step must be done on every pole to the satisfaction of all parties.
And make-ready is not cheap. We will be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for pole replacements and upgrades. There is also a surprising amount of brush clearing and tree trimming to clear access to the poles. “If you’re looking for a job, go into tree trimming,” said Finance & Audit Committee Chair Ray Pelletier. “The utility companies can’t find enough people.”
Finalizing the Network Design
At its September meeting, the CVFiber Governing Board heard from Andrew Gaidys, the project manager for the CVFiber network from the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative who’s been working with teams of field observers to create a painstakingly detailed network design. He shared a digital map of the CVFiber district that was littered with red dots and written notes, each one the result of an observation in the field. “We’re engineering it down to the nuts and bolts,” he said. “Ironing out details is happening on a daily basis.”
As that engineering is done, the data goes to Executive Director Jennille Smith, who refines our materials orders to make sure every part is available when we need it.
Materials Coming In, Storage Space is Prepared
As we reported last month, CVFiber has leased warehouse space in Montpelier. We also continue to use space at Washington Electric Coop for storing giant spools of fiber and another location in Montpelier.
We placed orders as early as possible for the materials needed to build 400 miles of network. The orders are getting a tweak based on the NRTC field work and design described above. We are receiving partial shipments of materials and more deliveries arrive at least twice per week, but just like everyone else, we are subject to issues with the supply chain. We’re taking steps to avoid delays by seeking alternative sources for materials. We also plan to coordinate with Vermont’s eight other Communications Union Districts to share materials when appropriate.
Preparing to Onboard Subscribers
CVFiber and our network operator Waitsfield and Champlain Valley Telecom (WCVT) are holding weekly meetings to work out subscription and connection processes and, of course, rates for service.
We will be using an online platform called CrowdFiber to allow people to subscribe. You’ll be able to input your address and find out if service is available to you and if so, the range of plans you can choose from. This system isn’t live yet; we’ll let you know when it’s ready to go.
2023 Budget in Development
CVFiber’s Finance Committee is working on a budget for the year 2023, which will be our first full year of construction activity. Our goal is to finish roughly half of our 1,200-mile network by the end of next year. Expenditures for 2023 are projected at nearly $25 million, more than three times as much as this year’s. But while spending will increase, revenue will begin to flow in from subscribers.
The budget will go before the Governing Board in October and then to our 21 member towns for review. There will be a public hearing in November, and the Board will adopt a budget in December.
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.