Office of the Broadband Committee
Town of Halifax
PO Box 127
West Halifax, Vermont 05358
Approved: March 22, 2022
Date: Monday, December 20, 2021, 7-8:30PM
Place: Conference Call
Attending: Committee members: Tristan Roberts, Stephan Chait, David Jones.
Notes By: David Jones
Call to Order
Tristan Roberts called the meeting to order at 7:02 PM.
Changes and Additions to Agenda
Review and Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Stephan Chait moved to accept the minutes of the July 26 meeting as written. Tristan Roberts seconded the motion. All present agreed. The minutes were approved.
Tristan Roberts moved to accept the minutes of the September 20 meeting as written. Stephan Chait seconded the motion. All present agreed. The minutes were approved.
DVFiber Status Report
David Jones noted that although the other Committee members present represent Halifax on DVFiber’s Board, he would summarize recent developments for the benefit of those who are reading the minutes.
Since the September 20 meeting, DVFiber has progressed considerably. The District applied for and was awarded $4.1 million of funds by the Vermont Community Broadband Board (VCBB) to finance engineering and other work that lays the groundwork for construction. The award was the full amount that DVFiber requested. DVFiber will work with GWI, its chosen private sector partner, to perform or coordinate the pre-construction work. DVFiber recently signed two agreements with GWI, including a Master Services Agreement and the first of several detailed Statements of Work. The first deliverable is a high-level design that provides an overall blueprint for the construction plan. The high-level design will include features to improve resilience and minimize the effects of outages. The next step will be to develop the full details of this plan. DVFiber will then apply for additional grant funds to finance construction. DVFiber also announced an advance purchase of fiber optic cable that will be ready for deployment when it is time to begin construction.
Tristan Roberts said the question he is asked most often is, “When will service be available?” David said there will be no definitive answer until we are at the cusp of delivering service because we don’t want to create unrealistic expectations. But the plan is still to begin delivery of service in 2022 and to complete the work within a couple of years. Halifax should remain assured that it remains in the first group of towns to be served, as in the business plan that is available for viewing on the Windham Regional Commission’s website.
Tristan asked what other questions are asked often. David said a common question is whether customers should sign up for other services while they wait for DVFiber. He said DVFiber recommends that customers avoid long term agreements or large dollar commitments where possible so that they will be unencumbered when DVFiber’s service becomes available. DVFiber’s service will be the best available on this planet so keeping the decks clear is the best policy where this is possible.
ARPA Funding Discussion
Tristan said the Selectboard expects to receive $140,000 of ARPA funds and has spent $3,000 to date. There is no commitment to other expenditures now. The Selectboard will be interested to hear of good opportunities to spend the funds. He suggested we should discuss further the concept of applying ARPA funds to subsidize installation costs.
David said the amount available to the town, including county funds, could be $200,000, based on input from the Vermont League of Cities and Towns that was compiled by DVFiber. This included about $71,000 of NEU funds and $132,000 of county funds. In addition, the VCBB will offer to match any funds that the town commits to Broadband, provided that the funds are committed by April 15, which is just after Town Meeting. In addition to broadband, the permissible uses of the funds are water and sewer infrastructure and programs that are reasonably explainable as responses to or recovery from the Covid emergency.
David said he is aware of three potential uses of the funds to support DVFiber. The first is to finance a program to subsidize the one-time costs of installations for income-qualified households. The second is to provide the funds to finance the advance purchase of materials other than fiber that are needed for construction. The third is to provide a contribution to the general fund of the District. For the second option, the District is looking at whether the funds of several towns could be pooled and used to provide the deposit necessary to obtain a letter of credit to enable the advance purchase of materials before construction grants are awarded. After the award, the District would pay for the materials out of the award proceeds and would return the funds to the towns to serve other purposes, which could also include options one and three. At present, this is a concept, not a plan. A task force is working to develop the practical details of the concept.
A separate task force is working on a proposal for subsidizing installations. They may build on work done by a non-profit called Equal Access to Broadband, which was started by our model CUD, ECFiber. Steven John, DVFiber’s Vice Chair, and others on the Board are pursuing this. Tristan said that installation subsidies might have the greatest positive impact for the town. Action: Tristan will follow up with David on the development of these ideas.
To get the matching funds from the VCBB, Halifax will need to make a commitment by April 15.
DVFiber has contributed a page to include in the report. The Broadband Committee can also contribute a page. The Committee has been in a wait-and-see mode this year, standing ready to assist DVFiber in its marketing efforts. Our message to the town may be to take pride that Halifax voted to become a founding member of DVFiber and to anticipate the delivery of service by minimizing long-term commitments to competing options. We want to ensure that everyone who wants access to the service can get it. Action: Tristan will draft a report and Stephan will review it.
Stephan said that the Agenda for this meeting was not posted promptly on the town website. Tristan said the town is between administrative assistants. David noted that the physical postings were completed on time and the Agenda had been posted online since Stephan last looked for it. In addition, two obsolete links to old DVFiber meetings had been removed from the town website, improving our committee’s page.
Hearing of Visitors
Stephan moved the meeting should adjourn. Tristan seconded the motion. All present agreed. The meeting was adjourned at 7:43PM.