Lots of broadband money, but US expansion finds speed bumps


VICTORY, Vt. — In the remote Vermont community of Victory, Town Clerk Tracey Martel says she’s regularly frustrated watching a spinning circle on her computer while she tries to complete even the most basic municipal chores online.

“Fast internet would be really good,” said Martel, whose community of about 70 was one of the last in Vermont to receive electricity almost 60 years ago. The DSL service she has now works for basic internet, but it can be spotty and it doesn’t allow users to access all the benefits of the interconnected world.

About 5 miles (8 kilometers) away as the bird flies in the neighboring community along Miles Pond in the town of Concord, a new fiber optic line is beginning to bring truly high-speed internet to residents of the remote area known as the Northeast Kingdom.

“I’m looking forward to high-speed internet, streaming TV,” said Concord resident John Gilchrist, as a crew ran fiber optic cable to his home earlier this year.

The fiber optic cable that is beginning to serve the remote part of Concord and will one day serve Victory is being provided through NEK Broadband, a utility of nearly 50 Vermont towns working to bring high speed internet service to the most remote parts of the state.

NEK Broadband Executive Director Christa Shute said the group’s business plan calls for offering services to all potential customers within five years, but given current supply constraints and the shortage of trained technicians, she’s beginning to think that goal isn’t achievable.

“I think our build will take seven to 10 years,” she said.

Congress has appropriated tens of billions of dollars for a variety of programs to help fill the digital gap exposed by the pandemic when millions of people were locked down in their homes with no way to study, work or get online medical care.

The first of those funds are reaching municipalities, businesses and other groups involved in the effort, but some say supply chain issues, labor shortages and geographic constraints will slow the rollout.

The demand for fiber optic cable goes beyond wired broadband to homes and businesses. The cable will help provide the 5G technology now being rolled out by wireless communications providers.


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