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Vermont House overwhelmingly approves community broadband

March 27, 2019

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — The Vermont House of Representatives has overwhelmingly approved a bill designed to help rural communities get access to high-speed internet, considered key to economic development in remote parts of the state.

The legislation passed Tuesday aims to bring broadband internet to about 17,000 Vermont residents who lack basic access outside of dial-up. Vermont Public Radio reports about 50,000 other residents have internet access that doesn’t meet the federal standard of broadband.

The House-passed proposal offers a package of state-backed loans and grants to help internet providers expand in underserved areas.

“We know that national cable and wireless providers are not coming to fix this problem for the people of Readsboro, Rochester, Newbury or the Northeast Kingdom,” said independent state Rep. Laura Sibilia, a sponsor of the legislation, referring to parts of the state facing challenges in getting broadband. “And we know Vermont currently does not have $600 million in state dollars to build a fiber network.”

The legislation authorizes the Vermont Economic Development Authority to loan $10.8 million, with $1.8 million available to each broadband company, to expand access. The bill, drafted by Democratic Rep. Tim Briglin’s House Energy and Technology Committee, passed with only two votes against it.

To become law, the bill must still pass the Senate.

The state-backed, low-interest loans would require no interest or principal payments in the first two years should help local companies clear a critical first financial hurdle, backers say.

“What they are doing is stringing fiber, they are trying to sign up subscribers and there is very little revenue coming into those entities,” Briglin said. “That’s very difficult financing to find from a bank or from the capital markets.”

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