Getting Our Ducks in a Row
As we prepare to begin construction on our 1,200-mile fiber network, we’re taking care of a long list of preliminaries. There’s a sobering array of details to pin down, potential obstacles to remove, and agreements to be finalized. We’re developing inventory control systems to handle all the materials needed to build the network as ordered parts continue to flow in. We still anticipate construction launch within weeks. As one member of our Board observed, “Things are moving forward and moving extremely fast.”
Reminder: The goal for 2022 is to build up to 100 miles of network in parts of Calais, East Montpelier, Woodbury, and Worcester and connect our first subscribers early next year. We’re planning to build another 400+ miles in 2023. We hope to reach all the “under-served” by 2025 if the make-ready is completed in a timely fashion and the funds, materials, and crews are available.
Here are the headlines of this month’s update:
- We are finalizing a Master Service Agreement for our construction partners.
- Pole licenses continue to come in.
- The detailed network design is being finalized in the first construction areas.
- We have retained a warehouse manager to oversee materials.
- CVFiber’s “adventurous” 2023 budget is in process.
- Member communities have committed $833,000 in ARPA grants to CVFiber.
- We have reached agreement with a public engagement and marketing firm.
- Watch for our next webinar on November 16!
And now, the details.
Lining Up Construction Contractors
CVFiber is sorting through construction bids from contractors seeking to build our entire network or parts of it. We’re determining the suitability and affordability of the bids and meeting with contractors to assess our needs, their capabilities, and how they fit together. We need contractors who can start construction when we want, maintain a brisk pace, have the necessary workforce in place, work to a high-quality standard, and be able to adapt to changing conditions. The CVFiber district is not an easy place to build; it’s full of dirt roads and forest. And one of our criteria is that contractors must leave as small a footprint as possible on the landscape.
The piece that ties all this together is the Master Service Agreement, which lays out the terms and specifications our contractors must abide by. This crucial document is nearly complete. Once that is settled and contractors are engaged, we can make concrete plans for construction.
Pole Licenses: Seven Miles at a Time
We have received our first five pole licenses from Washington Electric Coop. As dull as that may sound, this was an exciting development for the CVFiber team. Our fiber will be strung on utility poles owned by WEC, Green Mountain Power and Hardwick Electric. Each license includes roughly seven miles of poles. We’ve got 35 miles in the bag; only about 1,165 miles to go!
The licensing process includes agreeing on where and how connections can be made, who’s responsible for what, making each pole accessible by clearing brush, trimming trees to the point where they won’t need more trimming for at least five years, and replacing poles that are too short to maintain the required road clearance. The end product will not only be fast Internet service for all; it will also enable the utilities to create smart grids to make their systems more robust and sustainable.
Nailing Down the Design Details
Our high-level and mid-level designs are ready. Now we’re getting down to the real details: how and where each service connection will be made and exactly what materials are needed, down to the nuts-and-bolts level. It’s a painstaking process, but it ensures that construction and connections will go smoothly, we will always have the materials we need, and we’ll avoid making excess purchases.
At the same time, we are “truing up” our material orders to reflect our actual needs. This kind of efficiency will help minimize problems with supply chain issues.
Wild Blue Yonder Comes to Earth
CVFiber has chosen Wild Blue Yonder as its warehouse manager. This is a crucial role; materials are arriving almost every day, and they have to be stored securely and in good order. This will become even more critical when construction starts, and supplies are simultaneously flowing in from suppliers and flowing out to construction teams.
Wild Blue Yonder is a local firm that already has operations and staff in place and good working relationships with other Communications Union Districts. They can start working with no ramp-up time. They can receive materials coming to our warehouse with very little notice. And they are excellent communicators, making them easy to work with.
The 2023 Budget
Preparing a budget for the new year has been a real challenge. 2022 is the year of ramp-up and the launch of construction; 2023 is the year of all-out construction and connecting subscribers. It’s ambitious, it’s challenging, and we’re preparing for all of it. This month, CVFiber’s Governing Board approved a nearly $25 million draft budget, which now goes to our member communities for review. After that, we will seek public comment on the budget at the Board’s next meeting on November 9th at 6:00pm. Then, in December, the finalized 2023 budget will go to the Governing Board for adoption.
Public Engagement and Marketing
We are a few months away from beginning to offer service, so our public outreach efforts have to grow. CVFiber has contracted with the South Carolina-based Crawford Agency to handle public engagement and marketing. Crawford is a woman-owned firm that focuses solely on marketing. They made the best presentation of any bidder and offered a mix of traditional and digital methods. They have extensive experience building out campaigns that engage smaller, tight-knit, local communities like ours, though they are not located in Vermont.
Member Communities Step to the Plate
Thirteen of our member communities have committed $833,000 to building the CVFiber Community Network in their community. Their contribution will be matched by the Vermont Community Broadband Board, which means a total of $1.67 million for our effort. Each commitment and its match will be spent within the committing town’s borders.
This funding is critical as our other total grant funds now appear to be funding 50% or less of construction costs and it will contribute to arriving at subscription rates that are as low as they can currently be in the face of rising costs and other uncertainties.
Webinar Coming Up
Keep an eye out for our next informational webinar on November 16! We’ll provide a thorough update on our progress and our schedule. We are likely to have started construction by then! Keep an eye out for full details via Front Porch Forum or visit our website.
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.