Thursday, September 3, 2009

Broadband Stimulus Round I Applicants: Vermont Agencies & Providers Apply for $130 Million in Grants

Vermont State Office of Economic Stimulus and Recovery via 09/03/09 Montpelier, Vt.-The State of Vermont's Chief Recovery Officer Tom Evslin (blog) announced yesterday that five Vermont organizations have applied for over $130 million of stimulus grants and loans for last mile broadband projects that could, in the aggregate, reduce the number of Vermont households without available high speed Internet to less than 5% of the total.

Technologies proposed by the various applicants include fiber to the home, DSL, and wireless.

In addition the Vermont Council for Rural Development has requested $2.5 million for a sustainable broadband adoption program to help assure that Vermonters in 24 pilot communities have the equipment, training, and motivation to use broadband. The Vermont Center for Geographic Information has applied for a $1.96 million grant to continue and extend Vermont’s broadband mapping effort. The Department of Libraries has applied for 80% stimulus funding of $754,000 for a public computing center project to assure that computers are available in selected libraries for those who do not yet have equipment or broadband connections available at home.

“Preparing and coordinating these applications has been a great effort by Vermont companies and institutions, “said Governor Jim Douglas (R-VT).

“There were only six weeks from the time final rules were announced until applications were due. Vermont is fortunate to have first begun its broadband mapping effort early in this decade, passed Act 79, the e-state bill, in 2007, and to have begun coordinated planning for stimulus grants in March. I’m grateful to all who participated and have brought us closer to our goal of universal broadband as a key element of SmartVermont.”

SmartVermont is the Governor’s plan to have e-health services, e-education, e-government, and a smart electrical grid all supported by universal broadband availability and adoption. On August 6th all the electrical utilities in the State filed a joint application for $66 million of stimulus money to rapidly build a smart electrical grid.

All of the above applications were coordinated and aided by the Vermont Office of Economic Stimulus and Recovery (ESR) the Department of Public Service (DPS), and the Department of Information and Innovation (DII).

ESR provided official maps following federal guidelines detailing served and unserved areas; coordinated support plans for community anchor institutions such as government offices, schools, and medical facilities; and, working with DII, designed the Vermont Traffic Exchange (VTX) for intrastate peering, which will speed access by Vermonters to the websites of Vermont institutions and reduce the cost of providing Internet access in Vermont.

Most last mile applicants agreed both to support VTX and to connect anchor institutions at a low cost to the fiber backbone network being built statewide by VELCO. DPS and the state college system both supported the sustainable adoption and public computing center applications.

“Taken as a whole,” said Evslin, “these grants address the full range of things we need to do to build an e-state and bring its benefits to all of our citizens and businesses. The mapping program assures that we correctly identify needs and problems; the last mile programs provide physical broadband access where it is missing; the public computing centers serve those who don’t yet have broadband or computers to use it; and the sustainable adoption program helps remove barriers like lack of equipment and training and encourage civic use.”

The Edgar May Health and Recreation Center in Springfield filed its own $4 million request for public computing center funds.

There is no assurance that all of the applications will be funded. In fact, since there is some overlap, it is very likely that some will not be. The funding agencies – the US Department of Agriculture and the Commerce Department – announced that almost 22,000 applications totaling nearly $28 billion were filed nationally; this is seven times the amount actually available for this round. The agencies plan to accept another round of applications by the end of this year and one more in spring, 2010.

Using definitions of “broadband” adopted by the federal agencies for the stimulus program, it is estimated that less than 20% of Vermont’s 242,200 residences did not have broadband available as of January, 2009. There are existing, legally enforceable agreements with Comcast and FairPoint that should bring this number down to near 10% by the end of 2010. It is possible that stimulus grants now applied for could reduce this to less than 5%.

The goal remains 100% broadband availability. ESR has begun work on a plan to make sure that the remaining Vermont households which were not covered by applications in this round will have applicants willing to provide service in the next round. As soon as preliminary results from this round are known, which could be as early as mid-September, any areas where applications were unsuccessful will be added to the to-do list.
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