Office of the Broadband Committee
Town of Halifax
PO Box 127
West Halifax, Vermont 05358
Accepted: June 15, 2020
Date: Tuesday, May 26, 2020, 7-8:30PM
Place: Conference Call
Attending: Tristan Roberts
Chris Lynch, Matrix Design Group
Notes By: David Jones
Call to Order
Tristan Roberts called the meeting to order at 7:01PM.
Changes and Additions to Agenda
Review and Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Cara Cheyette moved to accept the minutes of the April 20 meeting as written. Bob Teree seconded the motion. All present agreed. The minutes were approved.
Deerfield Valley Communications Union District Status Report
David Jones reported that the Deerfield Valley Communications Union District has been meeting with vendors to understand the market for services that can be provided to the District and the capabilities of each vendor.
Tristan Roberts said the Windham Regional Commission (WRC) completed the feasibility study and submitted it to the state for approval. The study concluded that only one CUD in the Windham regional was viable. The District has grown to ten towns; Jamaica, Dover, and Stamford joined in the last month.
The next step for the WRC planning team is to develop a more detailed business plan. David said that the business case for the District will be challenging. The WRC report says that a CUD should ideally have 15,000 inhabited structures adjacent to its networks (15,000 “passings”) but there are about 7,000 in the Windham region. A key factor in the business case is the take rate, e.g., the number of subscribers divided by the number of passings. ECFiber has reported 25% is a typical initial take rate; this increases to 40% over time. But our business case may require a higher take rate to be viable.
Key roles for our Broadband Committee will be to build enthusiasm and commitment to take service and find ways to help lower income residents afford service. Established competitors like Consolidated Communications and VTel Wireless are likely to offer price promotions to retain the greatest possible amount of revenue. These may appeal to some residents. Even if our friends say they will subscribe in a heartbeat, we will need to reach out to everyone in town.
In addition, ValleyNet noted in its vendor presentation that connections to mobile homes must be made through underground conduit, which is expensive to install. When ECFiber offered free installation during the Covid-19 crisis, many occupants of trailers took advantage of the offer, suggesting that they had been unable to afford service unless the installation was subsidized.
Tristan and Cara noted that Halifax, Marlboro, Whitingham, and Guilford participate in a revolving loan fund that extends loans to lower income residents to complete projects that meet rigorous criteria for purpose and eligibility. The criteria are set by the USDA, the government agency that provided the seed funds. Andy Rice is one of the committee reps for Halifax. Patty Dow reviews the applications for the committee. Cara noted an additional complication: some mobile homes are placed on land rented from others. We don’t know how the fund would treat these situations. ACTION: Tristan and Cara will investigate the qualifications for loans from the Revolving loan Fund and how much money is available through the program.
Tristan asked what work needed to be done on CUD committees. David said more participants were needed on the Finance & Audit Committee. This committee will be researching sources of funds including grants, loans, and fundraising. ACTION: David will send Bob Teree the contact information for Thomas Almeida, the Finance & Audit chair.
Stephan asked Chris Lynch of Matrix Design Group about the roles local Broadband Committees play in recruiting customers for the fiber network. Chris said the committee would play a major role. In Petersham, MA, mailings announcing availability of service were much less effective than face to face interaction in organized meetings or less formal interaction at the town transfer station. The presence of fiber on the poles combined with a person to person interaction makes the network real in the eyes of potential subscribers.
Public Service Department Service Verification
Tristan reported that Bob took the mobile broadband test gear through three quarters of Halifax roads and Tristan completed the remaining one quarter. Tristan passed on the test gear to Tom Almeida of Wardsboro. We hope that the data recorded as Bob and Tristan drove will be preserved as others use the gear before it is returned to the PSD in Montpelier. The PSD will not update its maps with the new data immediately due to resource constraints.
David asked if anyone had experienced a mobile wireless service improvement due to upgrades of roaming capabilities on VTel Wireless towners for the ATT, Sprint, and T-Mobile carriers.. No one had seen an improvement.
David reported that the PSD had implemented an interactive broadband map that was capable of reporting the level of service provided at each inhabited building and to ask survey questions for that location. The interactive map and survey were set up to gather information about unmet broadband needs of families with school children. But the speed reported at David’s house was incorrect and there was no way embedded in the survey to perform or report a speed test.
Tristan has kept the Selectboard updated about the CUD’s progress. There is no compelling news to report in the Halifax News. David suggested there will come a time when the Committee becomes the local sales force for the CUD.
Cara asked whether the state or the CUD was considering the use of funds from the CARES act to support broadband investment. David said the state investigated this thoroughly and found that most projects needed to be shovel ready now and completed by year-end. There were some funds for distance education and telemedicine but these funds are not usable for broadband infrastructure construction but instead can pay for systems that make use of existing infrastructure or subscription fees for existing broadband connections. Chris added that logistics prevent most fiber projects from being completed in the short term. The key time element is the need to perform pole make-ready. Chris suggested that money for pole surveys would be a good use of CARES act funding.
Stephan asked how much a pole survey would cost. Chris offered the formula of road miles times 5,280 feet/mile divided by 180 poles/mile times $24. The calculated amount for Halifax was approximately $50,000.
Hearing of Visitors
No additional topics were discussed.
David moved the meeting should adjourn. Cara seconded the motion. All present agreed. The meeting was adjourned at 8:12PM.