Office of the Broadband Committee
Town of Halifax
PO Box 127
West Halifax, Vermont 05358
Draft: June 20, 2023
Date: Monday, June 19, 2023, 7-8:15PM
Place: Conference Call
Attending: Committee members: Tristan Roberts, Stephan Chait, David Jones
Visitors: Steven John (Chair of DVFiber), Edee Edwards (Selectboard Vice Chair), Doug Parkhurst, and Jane Patten
Notes By: David Jones
Call to Order
Tristan Roberts called the meeting to order at 7:10 PM.
Changes and Additions to Agenda
Review and Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Tristan Roberts moved to accept the minutes of the July 25, 2022 meeting as written. David Jones seconded the motion. Tristan and David agreed; Stephan Chait abstained. The minutes were approved.
Edee Edwards noted that the town’s website link to the most recent draft minutes leads to a duplicate copy of the June 6, 2022 meeting minutes. Tristan said this would be fixed.
Old Business: DVFiber Status Report and Halifax Roll-Out Activity
Jane Patten introduced herself, saying she is thinking of moving to the area and wants to learn more about internet services coming to the area. David Jones introduced Steven John, Chair of DVFiber, the Communications Union District that includes Halifax among its 24 member towns. These towns have banded together to build broadband where commercial providers have not built and where it is sorely needed. Many of those representing their towns on DVFiber’s Governing Board have been working on the problem for many years and now have the opportunity to deliver a solution through DVFiber.
Steven John said he is the Representative to DVFiber from Marlboro and is familiar with Halifax’s topography. He was formerly a school superintendent and knew many of the students from Halifax that attended high school in Whitingham. Steven thanked Halifax for pledging a donation to help get Halifax citizens connected to DVFiber, which is publicly owned and operated.
The Representatives of member towns who sit on DVFiber’s Board are ultimately responsible and accountable for delivering the service. DVFiber contracts with experts to do the necessary work under Board guidance and oversight to achieve the public interest. The primary commercial provider is Great Works Internet of Biddeford, ME. Construction is now underway after two years of preparation and contracting. Steven’s purpose for attending this meeting was to listen to ideas from the Committee to best use the funds donated by Halifax so they are used to meet the proper needs for which they are intended.
David Jones suggested that we should take a minute to describe the services that DVFiber will deliver to its member towns. David said broadband services available in our area range from high-speed services available in the centers of larger towns to low-speed services available in the more rural areas. DVFiber’s job is to deliver true high-speed internet service to areas where it is not provided now. This service will be delivered over fiber optic cable, not wireless, with speeds of up to one gibabyte download and upload. DVFiber has received $26 million of grants to date to accomplish this purpose and expects to receive more. With the help of GWI, DVFiber has contracted with a construction vendor to build the network and make connections. This construction will be completed during Halifax in the next two years. Many people in Halifax are not aware of this progress and don’t yet know how to indicate their interest in getting the service when it becomes available at their location.
Jane Patten asked for the website address of DVFiber. Edee Edwards provided it in the chat. Stephan Chait asked about the pilot group that had been testing the system. David Jones said the tests were complete and the roll0out is proceeding. Steven John said the plan makes it possible to provide service to any address in our member towns. Jane asked if there was a published schedule to show when service would be delivered to specific areas. Steven said that DVFiber is a municipality and must conduct business in the open but also needs to limit the disclosure of detailed information that would enable potential commercial competitors to make special offers to potential customers ahead of us. Jane said she currently lives in another state and just got Verizon Fios. She noted her family feels disconnected when they visit this area and look forward to having DVFiber service. Steven said DVFiber’s technical design is fully competitive and will match the technical capabilities of other services.
Tristan Roberts asked if public announcements can be made now about the timing of service in specific areas of Halifax. Steven John said DVFiber is not ready to make such an announcement now; it is clear that DVFiber is building now in Readsboro and will get to Halifax shortly. Steven noted we are exceeding our expectations for construction speed. David Jones said we need to tell our citizens that the time to make their interest known on DVFiber.net is now and DVFiber will follow this up when the connection time is at hand. Citizens can also learn on DVFiber.net what preparation may be needed at their homes before the date of installation. Edee noted the way to registered interest is to click on the Check Availability button. David will coordinate with Edee Edwards to have brochures available at upcoming Halifax events on the July 4 weekend, the weekly Cafes, and the Fire Department picnic.
Edee Edwards repeated what she has said in other meetings, that like the celebration that was held in Halifax when the town first got electrical service, this committee should organize an event to celebrate the arrival of broadband service. She suggested getting federal, state, and local representatives to attend to that we can thank them for the funds and for the opportunity to make use of the broadband service. The Celebration Committee does not intend to have a town-wide celebration this year but could be helpful for party planning. The celebration would be sometime between the date when service was provided to the first location and when it was available at all locations. Steven John said DVFiber’s Communications Committee would provide support. Tristan Roberts asked if we are able to pick a date now. Edee said the Broadband Committee can start planning for such an event before a date is selected. David Jones suggested our meetings next month and in August could focus more on this topic.
New Business: Administration of ARPA Funds
Steven John said DVFiber is grateful to Halifax and other member towns that have donated over $200,000 of ARPA funds for the purpose of helping their citizens to get connected to DVFiber, especially those who can least afford it. This amount is being matched by the Vermont Community Broadband Board. Although the cost to connect will be free, some customers may require new or refurbished underground conduit in order to make the connection. Most selectboards that have agreed to provide donations don’t want to be involved in deciding which customers will be the beneficiaries of the donated funds. DVFiber wants to give each town the opportunity to help determine how the program should be administered.
David Jones said that an estimate of what it would cost to connect homes that don’t have usable underground conduit and might not be able to afford it was the basis for the $40,000 donation from the Halifax Selectboard. These homes include but are not limited to some of the manufactured (mobile) homes in town. The subsequent donation of $10,000 was intended to make connections to locations that serve the public interest, which could include connections to the Fire Department, Community Hall, Town Office, and potentially homes of school children and senior citizens that might need financial assistance. DVFiber is now looking for input on how to decide which sites qualify for distributions for both donations.
The discussion of how to distribute the funds included these points:
- In some towns, the donated funds may be fully sufficient to cover all proposed uses; in other towns, there might be a need to choose between uses.
- To be responsible for the funds, there needs to be some stated basis for distribution.
- Participation in the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) could provide an objective basis for providing a subsidy to cover one-time site preparation costs. But there are likely to be people who don’t qualify for ACP but do need help with one-time costs to connect.
- Property tax exemptions for veterans could be one criteria for eligibility. The listers may have information about these locations. Patty Dow may also have this information.
- The Historical Society is a site of public interest where new programming might become possible if an internet connection was present.
- Making funds available for non-residents could make sense if this provides an incentive for them to relocate here.
- We should talk with Andy Rice, who helps to manage a home improvement loan fund that has some criteria for participation. But we don’t want to create a barrier to participation by requiring strict income-based qualifications. Also, some people might not feel comfortable asking for help.
- The veteran’s tax exemption, presence of children in school, occupancy of a mobile home, qualification for ACP could be objective criteria for distributing funds initially, with remaining funds distributed on the basis of self-expressed need.
- Setting qualifications for assistance may diverge from the objective of the program, which is to get everyone connected.
- The Lions Club does not use a formula but instead exercises discretion when reaching out to people in need.
- Neither the town nor DVFiber want to base allocations on income qualifications because gathering and processing this information is difficult and can be experienced as invasive.
- We might rely on the honor system, making a certain amount available based on certain criteria but not requiring proof of eligibility. The message would be, “raise your hand if you qualify and need the help; be mindful of others in your community.”
- One or more objective qualifications, whether based on income or other factors, would be simple but not more effective in achieving the goal than an honor system.
- People are basically honest and we should make the process as simple as possible, both for those asking for assistance and those administrating it.
- Although some percentage of people may unfairly take advantage of a subsidy, we could take that risk to ensure that everyone is connected.
Tristan will advise the Selectboard that the consensus view was that the honor system seems to be the simplest approach, perhaps combined with outreach to ensure those most in need become aware of how to proceed. He thanked the committee for its consideration of this issue.
Hearing of Visitors
Included in Old Business above.
David moved the meeting should adjourn. Stephan seconded the motion. All present agreed. The meeting was adjourned at 8:20 PM.