Office of the Broadband Committee
Town of Halifax
PO Box 127
West Halifax, Vermont 05358
Draft: March 22, 2021
Date: Monday, March 22, 2021, 7-8:30PM
Place: Conference Call
Attending: Committee members: Cara Cheyette, Stephan Chait, and David Jones.
Visitors: Jennie Strowe, Doug and Marilou Parhkurst
Notes By: David Jones
Call to Order
David Jones called the meeting to order at 7:05 PM. David welcomed Jennie Strowe and Doug and Marilou Parkhurst. Jennie has expressed interest in joining the Committee.
Changes and Additions to Agenda
Review and Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Stephan Chait moved to accept the minutes of the February 22 meeting as written. Cara Cheyette seconded the motion. All present agreed. The minutes were approved as amended.
DVFiber Status Report
David Jones reported that the Governing Board met twice to review answers to questions asked by potential respondents to the Request for Proposals. They also met once for a regular meeting last week.
The District has admitted Winhall to be the 21st town.
The District appropriated $36,000 for consulting assistance to help evaluate proposals received and to negotiate a definitive agreement(s) with the selected respondents.
The Treasurer submitted $7,000 of expenses for reimbursement under a grant received previously from the Brattleboro Business Development Corporation.
The Governing Board authorized the Chair to submit an application to the Vermont Department of Public Service for about $475,000 of grant funds to pay for additional pole studies and initial engineering work. The ground rules for applying for this funding have not yet been announced but, when they are, the authorization enables the Chair to act quickly.
The Finance Committee will be focusing part of its work on a continual search for additional sources of grant funds. Thom Almeida, Finance Committee Chair, welcomes the participation of anyone who has has grant application experience.
The Communications Committee reported that the Townshend Selectboard will discuss whether to join the District on March 23 and Searsburg will discuss this on April 1. These would be our 22nd and 23rd towns, if they decide to join.
The Vendor Committee discussed in Executive Session to discuss next steps regarding upcoming proposals.
DVFiber awaits the proposals that are due this week and expects a robust response.
David said Tristan forwarded to Robbin Gabriel our proposed appointments to the DVFiber Governing Board and to the Broadband Committee. The Governing Board appointments must be made by the end of April. We had decided to recommend reappointment the current slates. David recalled that Tristan has also recommended the appointment of Jennie Strowe to the Committee.
Jennie asked what the Committee work would entail. David said that Halifax’s ability to generate a high level of pre-subscriptions will determine how high on the priority list Halifax will be. The Committee has been in a holding pattern since we campaigned to form the CUD last year but activity will ramp up very soon after a vendor selection is made.
Jennie asked if the Committee will play a sales or communications role. David said the role would be communications – advising residents and part-timers about not only the availability of service but also how it can be used and why it will make sense to sign up at the first opportunity.
Stephan attended the Selectboard meeting last week. Selectboard appointments were not discussed; these are typically discussed in the first meeting in April. David said if appointments are not on the agenda for the first April meeting, we should ask for them to be on the agenda for the next meeting.
The American Rescue Plan Act has provided more funding for Broadband than we expected. The Act appropriates to the State of Vermont up to $600 million that could be used for broadband, including $100 million that was clearly intended to be used entirely for broadband. A bill passed by the Vermont House Energy & Technology Committee would appropriate $200 million of these funds to be shared by CUDs. While this amount may be cut in the course of Senate review and signature by the Governor, substantial funds should remain. In a recent Politico interview, Governor Scott said Broadband was the State’s number one investment priority.
The consultant we hired to help DVFiber evaluate proposals and negotiate contracts was surprised that the Act allocated funds so clearly to States, in contrast to other recent federal legislation that either distributed funds directly to commercial providers or placed impractical limits on how funds could be used by states.
The Vermont Senate Finance Committee will be debating the House bill next Thursday at 1PM. This debate will be broadcast on YouTube on Thursday at 1PM.
Cara asked whether Halifax will benefit by being a founding member of the CUD and, in particular, whether towns that are not part of CUDs will gain the benefit of the state funding. David said that the proposed state legislation would provide broadband funding to CUDs only; commercial providers would need to partner with a CUD in order to gain any benefit from this funding. This is new; last year, the Public Service Department had to allocate most CARES Act funds directly to commercial providers. Cara said it looks like our decision to join the CUD is putting us in the right place at the right time.
David retold the story of meeting Tristan at the Fall, 2019 meeting in which Laura Sibilia and other state legislators promoted legislation passed that year that provided funds and resources to support formation of new CUDs. We and several others at that meeting joined to form a Broadband Working Group which led to the formation of the CUD. Halifax was and still is a poster child for the kind of town that will benefit.
Hearing of Visitors
Stephan moved the meeting should adjourn. Cara seconded the motion. All present agreed. The meeting was adjourned at 7:30PM.