Office of the Broadband Committee
Town of Halifax
PO Box 127
West Halifax, Vermont 05358
Draft: July 30, 2021
Date: Monday, July 26, 2021, 7-8:30PM
Place: Conference Call
Attending: Committee members: Tristan Roberts, Stephan Chait, Jennie Strowe, David Jones.
Visitors: Dain Colandro
Notes By: David Jones
Call to Order
Tristan Roberts called the meeting to order at 7:05 PM. Tristan welcomed Dain Colandro.
Changes and Additions to Agenda
Hearing of visitors was moved to the top.
Review and Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Stephan Chait moved to accept the minutes of the March 22 meeting as written. Tristan Robers seconded the motion. All present agreed. The minutes were approved.
Hearing of Visitors
Dain Colandro said he hoped to learn more about what the town is doing to get broadband to more remote areas. It is a struggle to stay connected. Some people don’t want to visit.
Tristan said Halifax has joined DVFiber, a coalition of towns in the area that is dedicated to delivering broadband to the underserved and unserved areas of these towns. Latest updates will be discussed in this meeting.
DVFiber Status Report
David Jones recalled that Halifax was one of the towns that founded DVFiber because we are a poster child for the type of town that can benefit from this multi-town coalition. DVFiber is a municipal district, like a water of sewer district, that exists to get broadband to where it is lacking now. As a municipality, DVFiber does not need to earn a profit that meets shareholder expectation so it can provide service in areas that commercial firms will not serve. This model has been proven by ECFiber, the first Vermont communications union district (CUD). The federal American Rescue Plan Act has created an unprecedented amount of potential grant funding and recent state legislation known as H.360 has determined how those grant funds will be distributed through CUDs. The grant funds will get DVFiber to the point where it has a sustainable business and can attract debt capital to complete the job. With respect Dain’s concern, the plan is to bring service to every underserved and unserved location on the grid. The fiber network is mounted on existing utility poles. The broad game plan is to prepare this year to deliver service to initial towns next year.
Since this committee last met, DVFiber completed the process of issuing a request for proposals, holding vendor conferences, receiving and evaluating proposals, and making a selection. DVFiber selected Great Works Internet (GWI) as its vendor partner. GWI will play the role of general contractor and network operator for DVFiber which will be the owner and ultimate policy decision-maker. GWI is a B-Corporation, a for-profit company that pledges to consider the impact of their decisions on all stakeholders, including customers, suppliers, employees, the local community, and the environment. GWI has extensive experience in telecommunications and have provided voice, dial-up, DSL, middle-mile fiber transport, and fiber to the premises services in Maine.
DVFiber and GWI signed a memorandum of understanding and is now negotiating contracts so that work can begin most quickly. The state allocation of the American Rescue Plan Act funds will finance the work.
Stephan Chait added that DV stands for Deerfield Valley. The CUD now comprises 24 towns, including 20 in Windham County, 3 in Bennington County, and 1 in Windsor County. David added that a map available on the Vermont Public Service Department website shows DVFiber’s towns and other maps that are posted show how these towns are largely a broadband desert. When we are done, we will have the best broadband available. It is not easy to accomplish this but DVFiber has a capable team of volunteers and has selected a capable vendor.
Dain asked if there are any circumstances in which DVFiber would not sign a contract and proceed to deliver service. David said the broad game plan is to do engineering and utility “make-ready” – preparing utility poles to accommodate our fiber – this year and to begin construction and installation next year. The federal funds will cause competition for construction resources to surge. There may be some shortages but these are hard to predict
GWI will be counting on DVFiber and local Committees to help understand the makeup of our towns and how to reach into our towns so that we can gain subscribers and revenue most quickly. A ramp-up is built into the financial model but having more customers sooner will make the District more successful. David asked how we might describe the various segments are in town and how we might reach them.
For example, when we were raising support for the vote to found DVFiber and participation in a broadband survey, we reached out to the Fire Department and the local church and used the Grand List to reach out to second homeowners. We also have the Halifax News as a possible way to communicate. More broadly, our town’s character will be different than that of other towns. We need to describe the makeup of the town and how to reach each of the segments.
Tristan recalled we had done a similar assessment when gathering support for the formation of DVFiber. David said that in addition to understanding the makeup of the town, we will need to understand what messages will be most useful to generate interest and subscriptions. When he was a second homeowner, he had far better service at his primary residence. In contrast, those who have never had good service may not fully appreciate the benefits. These can include remote learning, telemedicine, remote work for those who work at a desk, social media, and entertainment. How many people know you can get all Boston local channels over the internet for $5/month? What could we teach about how good internet would help people make or save money? Tristan agreed that we can find ways to orient our residents to the opportunity. There could be educational events or materials to show people what is possible and this could help to promote DVFiber’s reputation in the area.
Tristan asked if we should pursue specific targets now or whether this conversation was a way of getting ideas to bring to the DVFiber Communications Committee. David said that the Communications Committee will be looking for our input because all of the towns are different. We will need to be able to describe the interests and concerns of our residents so these are included in the communications plan. The active campaign won’t begin until several months before installations can begin.
Jennie Strowe said residents have been affected profoundly by the absence of good internet and second homeowners would be able to do many things remotely that they can’t do now. David asked her to put on paper any thoughts that she has developed. We are in idea generation mode now. Tristan said to send any thoughts to David, who will forward them to the Communications Committee.
Tristan emphasized that our Committee will want to step forward to make a contribution to the communications effort.
The next scheduled meeting is on Monday, August 23.
Tristan moved the meeting should adjourn. Stephan seconded the motion. All present agreed. The meeting was adjourned at 7:46PM.