Office of the Broadband Committee
Town of Halifax
PO Box 127
West Halifax, Vermont 05358
Approved: May 26, 2020
Date: Monday, April 20, 2020, 7-8:30PM
Place: Conference Call
Attending: Tristan Roberts
Notes By: David Jones
Call to Order
Tristan Roberts called the meeting to order at 7:03PM.
Changes and Additions to Agenda
We agreed to discuss new business before old business.
Review and Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Stephan Chait noted that the persons who moved and seconded the adjournment of the March 16 meeting were Tristan Roberts and Stephan Chait, not Stephan Chait and Bob Teree as written. Stephan moved to approve the minutes of the March 16 meeting with this correction. Cara Cheyette seconded the motion. All were in favor. The minutes were approved as amended.
Deerfield Valley Communications Union District Status Report
David Jones reported that the Deerfield Valley Communications Union District formed officially at its meeting on April 9 and has registered with the Vermont Secretary of State. Two additional towns, Readsboro and Wardsboro, requested to join and were admitted to the District by vote of the Governing Board on April 9. The feeling of the Governing Board is that additional towns should be welcome. These towns bring additional resources to help govern the District. As of now, seven towns are members: Halifax, Marlboro, Readsboro, Stratton, Wardsboro, Whitingham, and Wilmington.
The Annual Organizational Meeting that is required by law will be held on Tuesday, May 12 and we are all welcome to attend by video or audio conference. Committee members will get a notice of the meeting.
The District is still seeking a Treasurer. By law, this person can’t be a Governing Board member or alternate. The position will be a volunteer role initially that requires a substantial time commitment. Suggestions of persons who are capable and interested are welcome. The Treasurer will have custody of District funds, manage relationships with banks, prepare annual budgets and financial reports, and oversee capital fundraising.
The next major action of the Governing Board will be to set up presentations by vendors who may be interested to serve the District. The purpose of these presentations is to understand which vendors are in the marketplace and what services they would propose. The Governing Board needs to understand the vendor landscape in order to choose an operating and financial model and prepare RFPs that will ultimately lead to vendor contracts.
About a dozen vendors have been contacted and six have responded to date. The letters sent to vendors described the objectives of the District and included a spreadsheet of information prepared by the Windham Regional Commission project team that would provide key background statistics for the region and report key results from the Broadband Survey. David noted that Stephan did a good job of helping the WRC team to achieve our expectations for the quality of this data.
Tristan said we should be proud to have helped the District to get started. Stephan suggested that Tristan should keep the Selectboard updated on the District’s progress.
Wi-Fi Hotspot Proposal
David reported that at the April 9 District meeting, we learned that the Public Service Department received an offer from Microsoft and RTO to install free WiFi hotspots in places where a) there was an existing high-speed broadband connection that could support multiple users and b) the signal could be received in parking areas where social distancing could be practiced. The only place in Halifax where this might be possible was the school. David reached out to school officials but learned that the fiber connection to the school, which has speeds of 80 up / 80 down, was subsidized by an E-Rate program that only allows the signal to be used by the students and faculty, not the general public.
Joe Moss, the technology coordinator for the school, learned that the school would become responsible for an ongoing software license for the free hotspot. He had some ideas for improving the school’s wi-fi distribution that would achieve the goal of better distribution in parking lots but at lower cost. David asked Joe to list some alternatives for doing this and offered to ask the Broadband Committee to raise the funds for the best alternative that was affordable. David did not receive a proposal in time for this meeting. We agreed to consider any ideas that Joe proposes at next month’s meeting in order to do what we can to help the community in the near term.
Stephan noted that Paul Blais was technically knowledgeable and could provide helpful input to this Committee. Tristan noted that the very restricted scope of the E-Rate program seems out of step with the broad range of community needs, especially during the health crisis. David said he hoped the Communications Union District would make the E-Rate subsidy obsolete.
Public Service Department Service Verification
David reported that the Public Service Department will be publishing an interactive map of Broadband capabilities that shows the actual level of internet connectivity at the building level throughout the state. This map will be based on data received from vendors last September. This data was used to update the town-by-town statistics we quoted when we urged a Yes vote to join the District. The interactive map will display this data at a granular level and will provide the ability to provide feedback on the map’s accuracy. The map will be of particular interest to our District. This Committee might consider mounting a campaign to have our citizens examine the map and provide verification or corrections. David said the map was not published yet, so it was not clear what level of granularity would be provided and what specific verifications questions would be asked.
David also reported that the Mobile Drive Test can still be on our agenda. We need to arrange for a hand-off from the Public Service Department, either in Montpelier or somewhere halfway between here and there. This can be arranged when the health crisis is not front and center for the Department.
The mobile drive test apparatus is a collection of cellphones in a drawer that work in tandem to measure mobile signal strength for each of the major carriers and to store these readings into a log file that the PSD can retrieve when the test is completed. There is a set of instructions for putting this setup into operation. After setting up properly, the tester needs only to drive our roads. The apparatus works automatically to obtain and store the test data. In addition to the mobile drive test set up, there is also an apparatus to measure the strength and speed of the VTel Wireless signal. That data would be very useful to know, as VTel will be a competitor of the District. The exact setup for that test remains to be understood. ACTION: David will coordinate pickup and Tristan will coordinate the drive test.
The Committee discussed how we should communicate to the community. Stephan said that reports to the Selectboard and periodic reports in the Halifax News will be read fairly widely. David said the Halifax News would probably publish short updates on a regular basis and longer updates on an infrequent basis. Tristan said he will take the lead on communicating through this channel.
David said we may need to focus on fundraising at some point. ECFiber raised funds by crowd-funding within their District and issuing promissory notes for small loans. Tristan noted that the Brattleboro Food Coop had used a similar strategy to finance partially the construction of its new building. Stephan said that the economic impact of the health crisis may make such fundraising more difficult.
David reported that the CUD is putting together a website. We may ask the District to provide updates to the public, so the reports we carry to our citizens are written once for everyone, not once per town.
Stephan mentioned that we had not asked for reimbursement of the expenses incurred to get a response to the Broadband Survey. Tristan reported that David had submitted these expenses to the Selectboard and they will be considered at the next meeting.
Next Committee Action Targets
We will continue discussion of the Wi-Fi Hotspot, PSD Service Verification, and Mobile Drive test. David noted that both Consolidated and VTel Wireless will be competing with the District for the business of our customers. Stephan noted that the Satellite services will also be competitors. The District will need to compete with these providers for the business of their subscribers. Cara noted that we may be able to get interest in the PSD service verification because many people have found their current speeds are not sufficient to fulfill the increased demand for internet at home due to the health crisis.
The next meeting of this Committee will be on Monday, May 18 at 7PM.
Hearing of Visitors
Cara motioned to adjourn the meeting. Stephan seconded the motion. All present agreed. The meeting adjourned at 8:06 PM.