Office of the Broadband Committee
Town of Halifax
PO Box 127
West Halifax, Vermont 05358
Approved: July 20, 2020
Date: Monday, June 15, 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 7:02PM.
Review and Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Stephan Chait moved to accept the minutes of the April 20 meeting with two changes. Cara Cheyette seconded the motion. All present agreed. The minutes were approved as amended.
Changes and Additions to Agenda
We moved Hearing of Visitors to the beginning of the Agenda.
Hearing of Visitors
Edee Edwards has moved back to Halifax and just completed her first full day of remote work. The DSL service available may create challenges. She asked for a report about the CUD’s progress and current status. Everyone welcomed Edee back to town. Tristan said we are working hard to bring fiber to Windham County. The key to success will be the take rate by town residents. We will need all the help and support we can get to generate a good take rate.
Deerfield Valley Communications Union District Status Report
David Jones began a status report. He started by saying Stephan has been very helpful to the Vendor Committee by organizing into coherent lists all of the questions CUD Board members have had for the vendors presenting to us. In addition, he has helped to compile a statement of our goals and objectives.
We completed the series of meetings with vendors that began in late April. We are not trying to figure out our vendor options in context of the FCC auction for subsidies for rural broadband, known as RDOF. It won’t be as simple as forming a plan and hiring vendors; the FCC will provide some subsidies to our areas through the mechanism of a reverse auction, in which the vendor agreeing to provide the highest quality of service for the lowest price wins the auction. There could be one or more winners for the area or no winners. The CUD is not qualified to bid because it has no track record and no financial history.
We are working on two tracks: 1) proceeding to develop our vendor contracting plans as if there was no auction and 2) figuring how to best relate to the bidders and/or winners of the auction. Partnering with bidders or winners could be the most practical way to achieve our goals.
Tristan asked how important the RDOF subsidies would be to our success. David said the amount of subsidies to be awarded will be in the range of one quarter of the actual cost to build. The main reason is that the FCC undercounts the number of underserved premises. In addition, the formula for the amount of subsidy awarded does not seem to reflect the actual cost. There is a challenge process before the auction that may reduce the locations covered by the auction and, as a consequence, the amount of subsidies to be awarded.
The firm that wins the auction will be the vendor that accepts the lowest amount of subsidy. The vendors we know to be bidders may or may not share our goal of universal fiber service availability. The winner needs only to provide service to the locations that the FCC sees as underserved. To achieve our goals, we may wish to partner with the winning vendor, trading our ability to raise debt capital and our ability to generate interest and subscriptions in return for a commitment to provide universal service.
Stephan added that the firms that will bid are for-profit firms. Tristan asked who they were. David said Consolidated and Tilson would bid. A third firm, GWI had said they might bid. We will meet with them later this week to determine if they will pursue a bid or if they have an intention of partnering with Tilson. GWI is a for-profit firm but has good values that would make them a good partner to work with.
The Windham Regional Commission (WRC) obtained the Public Service Department’s approval of the Feasibility Study and approval to proceed with the next step, a more detailed business plan. The WRC will present the Feasibility Study results in a webinar scheduled for June 24 at 6PM. Contact SWesta@WindhamRegional.org to register for the webinar.
At the last meeting, we talked about the cost of connections to mobile homes, homes located at longer distances from town roads, and homes where there is a financial need. The availability of funds to enable these connections would help to make internet affordable for our citizens. ACTION: Tristan and Cara will reach out to their contacts to learn more.
Stephan added that the CUD may need to issue requests for proposals (RFPs) for engineering, construction, and operations. The CUD is focusing first on an RFP for operations but may need to also write RFPs for engineering and construction.
David noted the monthly meeting of the CUD Governing Board will be on Wednesday, June 17. Dial-in information is posted on DVFiber.org. The public is welcome. Minutes of all meetings are posted on the site.
Tristan and Cara said the town appreciates the work that is being done to move the ball forward. David said the timeframe for getting service installed includes time for completing a business plan, getting financing, hiring vendors, surveying the pole infrastructure, mitigating pole issues found, constructing the fiber, installing the electronics, and THEN providing service to customers. In addition, Halifax is not the only underserved town in the District, so there will be multiple candidates for the towns to be built out first. The selection of initial towns could also depend on which towns will provide most subscription revenue relative to construction costs. This affects the District’s ability to qualify for municipal bond funding.
Tristan asked what support can be provided to the District now. David suggested we should be ready to canvas the town, hold events, provide publicity, and take other actions to generate interest in service subscriptions. The timeframe for doing this is measured in months from now, but that time will come quickly. This effort could require more intensity than our effort to ask the town to vote to form the District and complete the WRC survey.
Cara asked if any location in town has robust access. People who have not lived anywhere else could benefit from a demonstration of what high-speed internet feels like. The school has 100/100 service but is normally prohibited from sharing this signal with the general public under the terms of the E-rate subsidy that pays most of the cost. An exemption to this requirement is in place until September 30. The school board would have to agree to allow public access and to allow a meeting on school grounds and the meeting would have to be held safely. Stephan said the school has been cleaned thoroughly and is unlikely to admit visitors. There is Wi-Fi access for students and faculty in the parking lot. Possibly demonstrations could be held there. We would need to verify the speed. There are also good connections at the Whitingham library and at the Marlboro school. The connection at the town garage is relatively slow. Edee said the change in use at Marlboro College might have Act 250 approval requirements, the town could be considered an abutter, and some accommodation could request. David said the Marlboro broadband committee may have insight.
We are in a holding pattern while we wait for the right time to share news and conduct outreach. We will be ready for action when the time comes.
David got a check for reimbursement of survey costs and will send a check to Bob to cover his portion.
Stephan moved the meeting should adjourn. David seconded the motion. All present agreed. The meeting was adjourned at 7:44PM.