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Four more towns get high-speed service

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 5/15/2020 9:37:45 PM
Modified: 5/15/2020 9:37:31 PM

WINDSOR — Four new towns in the Upper Valley are in line to get wired for greater high-speed internet service after ECFiber agreed to extend service to them at the request of their selectboards, the community-owned telecommunications provider announced this week.

Windsor, Fairlee, West Fairlee and Corinth are joining the 23 member towns of East-Central Vermont Telecommunications District, known as ECFiber, after the consortium’s board unanimously approved their membership at its annual meeting on Tuesday.

But it could be a while before residents of the four towns can begin hooking up their home Wi-Fi to ECFiber’s fiber-to-the-home network.

In addition to the need to secure financing for the project, ECFiber is committed to fully wiring the remaining seven towns before it turns to expanding its network coverage area, the organization said.

“If we can do the design next year, then we should be building in the 2022 construction, some of it likely will go over into 2023,” said Chris Recchia, the former commissioner of Vermont’s Department of Public Service who was named managing director of Royalton-based ECFiber last year.

The plan calls for ECFiber to provide service to all of Fairlee and West Fairlee but to only portions of Windsor and Corinth that have slow or no internet service available.

Although both Consolidated Communications (formerly Fairpoint) and Topsham Communications provide internet service in Fairlee, neither consistently provides the entire town with widespread or ultra-fast service that ECFiber promises, said Fairlee Selectboard member Peter Berger.

“The speeds and services ECFiber would provide the town are above the lower speeds now available. When we heard the rates would be in line with what people are paying for lower speeds from other providers it was certainly an easy decision” for the Selectboard to request membership in the ECFiber consortium, said Berger.

Windsor Town Manager Tom Marsh said much of the town is already served by both Consolidated and Comcast but there are portions along the southern and western town border where “there’s been a little bit of frustration” with the lack of broadband service.

“In a very general sense, it’s the western side of (Interstate) 91,” Marsh said of the area of town most affected.

Recchia noted that ECFiber already serves West Windsor, so extending service to the western end of Windsor will not be a challenge.

The ECFiber board also elected former Hartford Selectboard member and Quechee resident F.X. Flinn as chair, succeeding Norwich resident Irv Thomae, who stepped down after more than seven years but will continue on the board’s executive committee.

Both Recchia and Flinn said ECFiber will look to obtain funding from federal stimulus money funneled to the state as a result of the COVID-19 economic recovery package.

“A lot depends on what is going to happen with federal and state infrastructure money that becomes available. That’s going to be a very important aspect of this,” Flinn said.

ECFiber has to date raised $42 million in revenue bonds, including $10 million last December, to fund its system’s buildout. Recchia did not rule out returning to the bond market again to raise funding (ECFiber repays its bonds from subscriber fees and other cash flow and not via taxpayers).

Since the onset of COVID-19, ECFiber has been providing free hook-ups and service to households of eligible students in families facing financial hardship. Working with school supervisory unions in its service area, Recchia said ECFiber is providing no-cost service to about 30 households so students can keep current with their online schooling.

At present, the no-cost subscription runs through June, but Recchia said ECFiber will review it at that time “to figure if we should extend it or offer a low-cost option.”

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.




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