Office of the Broadband Committee
Town of Halifax
PO Box 127
West Halifax, Vermont 05358
Revised and Approved: February 7, 2020
Date: Monday, January 20, 2020, 7pm – 9pm
Place: Town Office, 246 Branch Road
Attending: Stephan Chait
Notes By: David Jones
Call To Order
Tristan Roberts called the meeting to order at 7PM.
Changes and Additions to Agenda
Stephan Chait suggested we should include a discussion of Vermont open meeting law.
Establishing meeting time
We will publish a schedule of meetings that includes agreed-upon dates in the near term and scheduled dates in the long term. The dates will be posted online. We will adjust the scheduled dates with adequate notice to accommodate the work schedules of Committee members. Agreed-upon dates in the near term are 3-5PM on Friday, February 7; 7-9PM on Monday, February 24; and 7-9PM on Monday March 16. Other scheduled dates are 7-9PM on the third Monday of each month beginning in April. Meetings will be held in the town office unless warned otherwise. ACTION: David will coordinate with Robbin Gabriel to post the meeting schedule.
Election of officers
Tristan Roberts volunteered to Chair the committee. Bob Teree volunteered to be the Vice Chair. David Jones volunteered to be the Clerk. Cara Cheyette moved that we appoint Tristan, Bob, and David to these positions. Stephan Chait seconded the motion. All were in favor. David Jones said he wanted to represent the committee at meetings organized by the Windham Regional Commission (WRC) and the Deerfield Valley Broadband Working Group (DVBBWG). ACTION: There was consensus that we would recommend this to the Selectboard on Tuesday.
Report from WRC meeting
Before this Committee was formed, David Jones had circulated his notes from the Windham Region Broadband Project “Kickoff” meeting held on January 16. The primary focus of that meeting was on how to administer a household survey that will provide a basis to estimate the demand for broadband service in each town. A survey instrument will be distributed to towns in mid-February. Towns will be responsible to obtain a response rate of 30% or more of household addresses.
David described the origins of the Deerfield Valley Broadband Working Group and how it relates to the Windham Region Broadband Project. In short, the Working Group is an informal group that includes Selectboard and Broadband Committee members from many neighboring towns in Southern Windham County. After an initial meeting between representatives from Wilmington, Whitingham, and Readsboro on November 6, Ann Manwaring of Wilmington organized monthly follow-up meetings which to date, have been held on November 20, December 11, and January 15. Halifax and many other towns have been represented. David Jones and Stephan Chait have represented Halifax. The focus has been on identifying alternatives for bringing broadband to this region, either by 1) establishing a Communications Union District comprising many towns and working collectively to bring this to fruition or 2) taking other action at the individual town level. The alternative suggested most strongly by State Representative Laura Sibilia and many of her colleagues is to form and run a Communications Union District. A District enables towns to consolidate the demand for service across multiple towns in order to gain economies of scale that can make the service available at reasonable cost. In addition to creating a critical mass of end-users, a District also pools the expertise available across all member towns so that management oversight of the service can be better informed and more effective.
The Windham Region Broadband Project is focused on completing a feasibility study to determine the ideal composition of one or more Districts in this region and to create a first-cut business plan to guide start-up of the recommended District(s). The ideal District size will balance the benefits of larger size – economies of scale that reduce the cost to customers – against the complications of larger size – the speed at which decisions can be made and actions can be completed.
The key input to the feasibility study is the demand survey that Halifax and other towns must administer.
Review of status of broadband options
Bob Teree asked if either group was considering technical options other than Fiber to the Home. David Jones reported that Carole Malone, the lead technical consultant for the Windham Region Broadband Project, had stated to the Working Group that Fiber to the Home is the only commercially available and broadly supported technology that can provide Gigabit speeds to the home. Other widely user technologies (DSL, wireless, cable) can provide lower speeds that have some usefulness now but are likely to become obsolete as households add more connected devices and those devices require increasing bandwidth. David asked Malone specifically about second generation broadband over powerline and low earth orbit satellites and was advised that the commercial availability of these technologies cannot be assured. In addition, 5G service, while high speed, requires a proliferation of antennas that will be cost-effective only in population centers.
Discussion of next steps for committee and activities to pursue
The Selectboard has agreed to ask voters to decide at Town Meeting whether to form the Deerfield Valley Communications Union District. Advocating in favor of this action will be a primary focus of this Committee. A second focus will be educating full and part-time residents about the demand survey in order to achieve a response rate of 30% or more. There was consensus that these activities will require the full focus of the Committee in the next two months. If we are successful in gaining voter approval to form the Deerfield Valley Communications Union District, supporting the start-up of this organization will be a logical next step. When we are well on the path of making high speed broadband available at every location served by the electrical grid, a follow-up focus can be finding ways to make it available to those on very low budgets through such mechanisms as co-working spaces or mesh networking.
Planning for Town Meeting
Stephan noted that Halifax is small, low density, and not rich. We are exactly the kind of town that a Communications Union District is designed to benefit. If voters agree to form a District, Halifax will be a founding member that has a voice in all decisions and actions. If voters to not agree to form the District, Halifax can ask to join at a later time but the District can reject this request. By law, we are assured of being included if we vote Yes. We outlined the reasoning to be in favor and how to present it. See ACTIONS in the section below.
Communication and outreach
The Committee needs to educate voters about the Communications Union District vote and educate survey respondents about when and how to complete the WRC survey. To achieve the 30% response rate for all residents, we need to network through the school, Selectboard, and other key town institutions. We need funding for a mailing that will deliver the survey to part-time residents and possibly full time residents. We also need to educate respondents about how to complete the survey, as some questions may be technical (e.g., current download speed at your home now.) Bob owns HalifaxVT.com and has started the town’s Facebook page. Cara maintains a list of local email addresses. The Committee brainstormed the key messages that voters and survey respondents need to understand and the alternatives for conveying these messages. We will focus on a) residents who access the internet now but may not know the full range of benefits if true high-speed broadband is available here and b) residents who have experienced true high-speed internet at other locations and want to have it here.
ACTIONS: Cara and David will draft one-page summaries of information to present a) to voters and b) to survey respondents. We will “test drive” the messaging to people we know and revise in response to questions received. Tristan and Bob will develop plans to distribute the information in person to key influencers, online, in local media, at local events, at Town Meeting, and at the information meeting before Town Meeting. David will process a copy of the Grand List to enable a mailing. The Committee will request $500 from the Selectboard to support a mailing. Stephan will ask Sue Westa of WRC to provide a draft copy of the survey instrument or the model from which the WRC is working.
Open Meeting Law
Stephan Chait suggested that we review a June 2018 presentation to the Windham Regional Commission by James Barlow, an authority on Vermont open meeting law. The key point is that an assembly of three or more Committee members creates a quorum, the proceedings of which must be transparent to the public. For example, we have to warn any meeting that will contain a quorum and must publish a record of the discussion in the meeting.
Cara Cheyette said the Vermont League of Cities and Towns also provides information about open meeting law. Their take on the law is more restrictive than James Barlow’s. We agreed we would work within the spirit and the letter of the law.
ACTION: Stephan will provide to each Committee member a copy of or link to the WRC presentation.
Hearing of Visitors
There were no visitors.
Cara Cheyette motioned to adjourn the meeting. Stephan Chait seconded the motion. All present agreed. The meeting adjourned at 8:55 PM.