Office of the Broadband Committee
Town of Halifax
PO Box 127
West Halifax, Vermont 05358
Draft: July 30, 2022
Date: Monday, July 25, 2022, 7-8:30PM
Place: Conference Call
Attending: Committee members: Tristan Roberts, Stephan Chait, Tom Fischer, David Jones
Visitors: Edee Edwards, Halifax Representative to DVFiber; Sarah Lang on behalf of Wichie Artu
Notes By: David Jones
Call to Order
Tristan Roberts called the meeting to order at 7:01 PM.
Changes and Additions to Agenda
Edee Edwards suggested that we discuss how to engage members of the community. Tristan added this to the DVFiber Status Report section.
Review and Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Tristan Roberts moved to accept the minutes of the June 6 meeting as written. Stephan Chait seconded the motion. All present agreed. The minutes were approved.
DVFiber Status Report
David Jones reported that DVFiber was awarded $21.9 million of construction grant funds, increasing the total amount of grant funds awarded to $26 million. DVFiber is using the first $4.1 million to complete design and make-ready activities that precede construction and the $21.9 million for the initial phases of actual construction. There will be opportunities to gain additional grant funding and to access the bond market for funds that can’t be provided by grants.
At DVFiber, James Hamilton has replaced Diane McCormick as Communications Committee Chair. Programs to communicate with citizens have not yet begun.
In connection with the grant award, Gov. Scott held a press conference on July 22. Edee Edwards spoke at the conference and was well received. Steven John, DVFiber’s Chair, also recruited a family that reported on its experience with poor connections as they tried to work and be educated from home during Covid. This family was from Marlboro even though they were erroneously described as being from Halifax. Edee said it was nice to thank those who have gotten us this far and to recommit Halifax to participating in making this come to fruition. David thanked Edee for representing us on short notice.
David said DVFiber’s audit of the 2021 fiscal year was released. It was a clean audit. The Finance team learned a lot from the audit process and is in good shape to keep the District’s financial health in order.
Stephan Chait noted that the Chair of DVFiber is now Steven John of Marlboro, who took over from Ann Manwaring of Wilmington. David noted that Steven John has been working for a decade to bring broadband to Marlboro and, since 2019, to the entire region. Stephan also noted that the District is looking for a new Treasurer, to replace the current Treasurer who has to attend to other work commitments.
ARPA Funding Discussion
David reported that the Halifax Selectboard voted to pledge $40,000 to DVFiber to pay the one-time costs of connections that may be required by households that qualify for federal subsidies of ongoing monthly broadband fees. He had presented statistics to indicate the need. Halifax may have a higher proportion of lower-income households than some other DVFiber towns. Although the statistics don’t provide a complete picture, David is confident the pledge will be important to connecting everyone. Stephan Chait noted that the VCBB has promised to match the funds 100%. We asked for $36,000 to fund half of the estimated requirement. The Selectboard voted to make the pledge $40,000. Edee said this was among the first purposes of ARPA funds voted by the town. Tristan said this was the second; the first was for video equipment to video conferencing for Selectboard meetings. Edee asked if the pledge had been documented. Tristan said the Selectboard will be issuing a letter to document the pledge in the coming week. Stephan noted that the VCBB has set a September 15 deadline to receive the pledge letter.
Edee said a continuing challenge to DVFiber is how to promote awareness of DVFiber without promising more than can be delivered in the short term. The citizens of Halifax want to know what they will be getting and when but the answers to date have been, “it depends.” The DVFiber Communications Committee is trying to communicate a consistent message. This committee should also have a consistent message that is communicated through an appointed spokesperson. This will be better than ad-hoc responses to inquiries in public forums.
Edee noted that another CUD reported at Gov. Scott’s press conference that it has knocked on doors to determine local interest in their network. She asked whether DVFiber has developed a list of potential customers and what role this committee should play in developing this list and at what time.
David said this topic is being discussed actively within DVFiber. He said the Committee will not want to get too far ahead of DVFiber. A common theme among broadband providers is to under-promise and over-deliver. The timing of this project is affected greatly by the condition of the utility poles on which fiber will be attached and how quickly the poles can be made ready for our construction. The availability of construction materials will also be a factor due to supply chain issues related to Covid and the surge in demand for these materials. David said the Committee will need guidance and materials from DVFiber to mount an effective communications effort.
Stephan Chait noted there will be a house-by-house survey of how connections will be made to each home. He asked if this survey could be the vehicle for communicating with individual homeowners. David said he thought the communications program would need to be more focused on networking within the community in group settings to create awareness and perhaps provide education about how to make use of this network that will have capabilities not seen in Halifax before.
Tristan summarized by saying this Committee has been in a holding pattern for a while. We are ready and willing to get the word out. He feels that awareness of DVFiber is low.
Edee said we can produce a grand list but getting phone numbers and email addresses is hard. We would have to ask for them. She was hoping that we would have a way to frame the conversation and reach both local residents and second homeowners.
David said these were topics to be raised in the upcoming DVFiber Communications Committee meeting. He said there is a mailing list that has been compiled from several sources but we might want to get emails and phone numbers through interactions with the community.
Tristan said a townwide email and phone list would be useful. David recalled Penfield Chester was compiling a list at the 2020 town meeting but was not sure what came of this. Edee said we could simply put a clipboard at the town office to get emails and phone numbers. Tristan said he would bring to the Selectboard the idea of a townwide directory for either emergency or non-emergency use.
Edee said she understood the challenges of communicating but there is a sense of urgency due to the activity of other vendors in the market.
Tristan thanked Edee for bringing up this topic.
Hearing of Visitors
Sarah Lang introduced herself. She was previously with Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation and now works for Northern Borders. She attended this meeting on behalf of the campaign for Wichie Artu, who is running for a seat in the state senate. She stated that Artu had a conflict with this meeting but wanted to become informed and learn about our progress. His question to the committee is what policies will be most helpful to DVFiber. David said DVFiber needs the legislature to continue the policy of directing public funds to public entities like communications union districts in order to deliver universal access to broadband. This is a long-run best strategy for our citizens. The influence of commercial lobbyists on the design of federal programs is extensive. It is a blessing that our legislature is focusing on public network ownership.
Edee recalled a time when the program to build a privately owned wireless network was supported because it was supposed to provide useable speeds and wide coverage but this effort came up short. She supports the creation of public entities to deliver fiber broadband. When useable network speeds become widely available, net neutrality may become more of an issue. Affordability may be a greater issue. Not having a tax impact on towns or their residents helps to make CUDs a viable proposition to voters.
Tom Fischer introduced himself. He has a house in Halifax and had an opportunity to live here full time but was unable to do so due to the lack of high-speed internet. He installed a Starlink system but it doesn’t meet his need for consistent high-speed connection to do his work as a systems engineer. He is surrounded by large oak trees and just can’t make Starlink work in that setting. Tristan had asked Tom if he would be able to help the committee. He looks forward to doing so. Edee welcomed Tom to Halifax and the committee.
Tom asked whether the Fire Department clambake in August would be an opportunity to promote DVFiber. Edee said this idea has not been tried – most residents come to socialize and there is a high proportion of non-residents.
David moved the meeting should adjourn. Tom seconded the motion. All present agreed. The meeting was adjourned at 8:03 PM.