Office of the Broadband Committee
Town of Halifax
PO Box 127
West Halifax, Vermont 05358
Draft: September 25, 2021
Date: Monday, September 20, 2021, 7-8:30PM
Place: Conference Call
Attending: Committee members: Bob Teree, Stephan Chait, David Jones.
Visitors: Kimberley and Chris Lehner, Edee Edwards
Notes By: David Jones
Call to Order
Bob Teree called the meeting to order at 7:01 PM.
Changes and Additions to Agenda
Review and Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Stephan Chait noted that not enough committee members who were present in this meeting were also present at the July 26 meeting. Therefore, approval of the minutes was deferred until the October meeting.
Hearing of Visitors
Kim Lehner asked what citizens can do to spread the word about DVFiber and help to generate interest and subscriptions. David Jones said that involvement can range from getting on to the DVFiber.net website to participating on DVFiber committees, which are staffed entirely by volunteers from our 24 member towns.
Edee Edwards said Halifax residents who want to become remote workers need further guidance from DVFiber. It will be very helpful to have guidelines for installation to the home so that customers can be fully ready when DVFiber service becomes available.
DVFiber Status Report
The main focus of DVFiber’s most recent Governing Board meeting was to establish an Executive Committee that can act on behalf of the Board between monthly Board meetings, oversee activity previously approved by the Board, and make recommendations to the Board about issues that arise between meetings. The Governing Board will continue to be the authoritative governing body and each town will continue to have one vote on the Governing Board. The Executive Committee will supervise vendors chosen to do the work of the district, including both vendors and a supervisor for vendors. David read from the motion that established the committee and read the names of the Executive Committee members. They represent towns in the North, South, East, and West of the District’s service area. David is an ex-officio member because he is chair of the DVFiber’s Operations Committee.
The Board also authorized the District to apply for a pre-construction grant from the Vermont Community Broadband Board. The amount available to DVFiber is $4.1 million. The grant application requires considerable work. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis. Funds for these grants come exclusively from the American Rescue Plan Act. There is a $30 million pool for pre-construction grants. These grants can be made to Communications Union Districts only. Another pool for construction funds will be available to both Communications Union Districts and, in certain conditions, commercial providers.
ARPA Funds Allocated to Halifax
Halifax will receive funds appropriated through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The use of these funds is limited to Covid-related assistance to local households and businesses and/or investment in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure. There may be competing uses but we should propose ideas focused on broadband.
There is not much guidance available about what uses are qualified to receive funding. The Vermont League of Cities and Towns has so far provided only very general guidance. The Vermont Communications Union District Association has not provided guidance to CUDs or local broadband committees.
David reminded the group that, by law, Communications Union Districts can’t be given and can’t use funding coming from local tax revenues. The ARPA funds are not tax revenues.
The amount of ARPA funds is small relative to the total investment required to build the broadband network in Halifax. Still, the funds could be quite useful. David provided some ideas for starters.
ECFiber, our model CUD, applied CARES Act funds to pay for underground conduit to mobile homes owned by low-income residents. Conduit is required for connections to mobile homes. The cost of conduit far exceeds the cost of standard overhead installation and many residents could not afford to pay for it. ECFiber gained hundreds of customers, close to a 10% increase as the result of this program. ARPA funds could be used for this purpose. There would need to be a mechanism to qualify residents for the program.
There will be places where the utilities are underground. One is about to be constructed on Hanson Road. There are other known sections in town. Green Mountain Power will aim to construct additional underground sections where they move the lines to the roadside. Underground construction is 4-5 times more expensive than overhead installation; the added cost could cause some areas to be worked around. Halifax could contribute ARPA funds to help pay for the necessary underground construction. Installing underground conduit at the same time as GMP, rather than later, will be the most economical approach.
Bob Teree asked who is responsible to pay for installation to the premises. David said there will be a nominal installation cost for overhead installations up to a designated length from the nearest fiber route, expected to be 400 ft. The CUD will install electronics at the same time as the fiber connection to the premises for the standard fee. There will be additional cost for fiber connections that are longer than the standard length. If underground installation is required, DVFiber will provide the specifications for the necessary conduit and will pull cable through conduit that meets the spec.
David reported that Tristan Roberts suggested there could be a revolving low-interest loan fund to cover installations to qualifying households, similar to the housing rehabilitation loan fund. We might recommend simply paying the cost of all installations for qualified residents.
Edee Edwards suggested that we could recommend investment in hot-spots at community areas that could be used if power was out or a local connection was interrupted. The town garage, the community hall, or the emergency services headquarters at the fire department could be viable locations. Backup electric power might be included for resilience. David recalled that the wifi equipment would cost in the range of $1,000 per location including battery backup.
David reported that Cara Cheyette had suggested using some of the ARPA funds to pay for a system to enable the town to host meetings both in person and remotely. David said Whitingham had invested about $2,000 into a system that included a microphone, camera, video projector, and screen.
Bob Teree suggested there could be an allocation of funds for marketing and sales to town residents to get the highest possible number of customer sign-ups. David said DVFiber expects GWI to guide local marketing based on our understanding of our community and the best ways to reach out. Bob suggested we should present educational programs to residents to help them understand the installation requirements and the benefits of the new service. For example, David said that any resident with a satellite dish and a landline will pay about the same total amount with a fiber connection but will have much better service. David said we can expect the CUD to provide presentation materials.
Bob suggested that any of these uses that would increase the subscription rate will benefit both the town and the CUD.
Action: David will send a list of the items we discussed to the Selectboard before minutes of this meeting are posted.
David also reported that DVFiber will hire a project director and possibly an assistant. He has been asked to be the interim project director until a permanent person is found. This would require David to resign as Halifax’s Representative to the Governing Board. David recommended that Steven Chait would be a good replacement. He has been involved from the beginning, has contributed to Vendor Committee and Governing Board meetings, and has experience in construction, the phase we are entering now. David asked if the Committee should recommend the appointment of Stephan as a replacement for David. Bob Teree felt there should be a confirmed vacancy before this committee recommends a replacement. David said he wants to ensure there is a replacement before he resigns. Stephan said it would be better to have more committee members present to vote on a recommendation.
David moved the meeting should adjourn. Stephan seconded the motion. All present agreed. The meeting was adjourned at 7:20PM.