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ECFiber Plans Summer Expansion

Sunday, May 12, 2013
Norwich — ECFiber has connected 325 customers to high-speed fiber-optic broadband Internet service and is about to expand its network to more underserved customers this summer, the organization’s chairman said last week.

The Vermont nonprofit provider, which is working to deliver service to 23 municipalities in the Upper Valley and other parts of the state, also has just completed a round of funding and now has customers connected in Barnard, Bethel, Chelsea, Pomfret, Royalton and Vershire. ECFiber also is moving quickly to provide fiber connections in parts of West Fairlee, Thetford, Strafford, Sharon and Norwich for customers who are not being served by commercial providers, said ECFiber Chairman Irv Thomae, who lives in Norwich.

“Before the fall, we’ll have people connected in Chelsea, Vershire, Thetford, Tunbridge, Royalton and Sharon, and a lot of the people in Strafford, he said, along with service to several neighborhoods in Norwich, he said.

The nonprofit has raised about $3.5 million through grants and investment loans from community members.Although residents wanting service are not required to loan money to ECFiber, the tax-free notes promise a good return for investors, ranging from 5.3 percent to 7.65 percent, depending on the type of note.

Residents in Randolph, Woodstock and Sharon have efforts under way to raise the funds needed to serve those town, Thomae said.

“This is a really incremental, but exciting process that can be a little frustrating at times, but it’s probably always that way with community-owned projects that require fundraising,” he said.

ECFiber, which is short for East Central Vermont Community Fiber-Optic Network, was created during Town Meeting Day in 2008 when 22 towns and Montpelier voted to join the service.

The nonprofit started out seeking funds by selling $90 million in bonds on the national capital market, but the economic downturn cut the effort short. The organization also received a setback after its bid for $60 million in federal stimulus money lost to VTel, which received the multimillion-dollar grant for a wireless proposal, according to the organization’s website.

ECFiber then turned to locally raised capital by offering privately placed promissory notes in multiples of $2,500 to people interested in investing in the service. The first round closed on Jan. 1, 2011, and raised $912,000, enough to get the service started.

The first customer was connected in August 2011.

The next three rounds raised almost $1.7 million more, and 30 miles of fiber was strung during the next year.

“We’re getting nearer the goal of making high-speed fiber-optic broadband available to everyone in Vermont who doesn’t have it,” Thomae said.

CORRECTION

This article has been amended to correct an earlier error. The following correction appeared in the Thursday, May 16 edition of the Valley News.

ECFiber is working to bring high-speed Internet to underserved areas in 23 Vermont municipalities. It has customers connected in Barnard, Bethel, Chelsea, Pomfret, Royalton and Vershire. The status of the work was incorrectly described in a story in the Sunday Valley News.

In the same story, the extent of coverage the nonprofit consortium intends to provide in Norwich was incorrectly described. ECFiber hopes to bring fiber-optic service to several neighborhoods in Norwich by the fall. Also, two references to Strafford were misspelled.




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