The Google Fiber deal could bring high-speed internet to 43,000 Vermont households

Map shows which cities have Google Fiber. Two Vermont communities hope to be the next places on the map. Screenshot from fiber.google.com

Two groups of communities in northwestern Vermont are close to reaching an agreement with Google Fiber to bring lightning service to some of the most underserved areas of the state.

“I live in one of those communities, so I fully understand the frustrations for many years only to have poor or no connectivity,” said Sean Kio of Enosberg, executive director of Northwest FiberworX (formerly the Northwest Communications Union District), which represents about. 29,000 addresses.

Communications union districts are cities that have come together to build a communications infrastructure.

Two of Vermont’s newest CUDsNorthwest FiberworX (with 21 member communities) and Lamoille FiberNet (with 10 member communities) joined forces last year to build, own and maintain an open-access fiber network that can host several Internet service providers – for the first time for the state.

“We’re doing something that’s very different than any of the other communications union districts,” said Val Davis of Johnson, executive director of Lamoille FiberNet, which covers about 14,100 addresses. “We are building an open access network and we will own the network when it is done.”

According to the state, 71,000 addresses does not have access to the federal definition of broadband, which is a download speed of 25 megabytes per second and a upload speed of 3 mbps – and that’s just basic broadband. They may have DSL or maybe even dial-up.

Vermont is the first state in the nation to allow municipalities to come together as CUDs to build a fiber-optic service.

“This is where Vermont is ahead of the game,” said Rob Fish, deputy director of the Vermont Community Broadband Board, established byAct 71 in 2021. “By aggregating cities in these communications districts, it made sense for these big providers – who hadn’t been interested in Vermont before – to talk to us.”

Together, the Northwest and Lamoille CUDs represent just under 43,000 addresses.

Google heard about the partnership and contacted the state in September, Davis said. They have been in discussions ever since.

If all goes well, Google could become the network’s number one retail provider, Fish said. “So you’d be talking about good rates, incredibly fast speeds, and it would be a publicly owned network where Google could be just one of several providers on the network.”

Google Fiber is a high-speed broadband internet service that uses fiber-optic cables to deliver speeds of up to two gigabits to homes and businesses. Fiber optic cables transmit information using light, enabling much faster speeds than traditional cable, DSL, or telephone connections. Google Fiber is currently running 20 metro areas across the United States

“We hope this project will be an example for many other communities that need a fast and reliable internet,” said David Finn, director of corporate development at Google Fiber, in a March 9 press release.

What had previously worked at Burlington Telecom said the Northwest and Lamoille CUDs had covered a lot of ground in recent months and “hopefully will end with our negotiations here over the next two weeks.”

The process involves a lot back and forth, but Davis said he hopes to have an agreement signed with Google by the end of June.

If all goes as planned, construction could begin later this year, and about 42,900 households could begin to see new service over the next 36 months.

Regulated by state law, the CUDs have already purchased their first sets of fiber – 150 miles for Lamoille FiberNet and 130 miles for Northwest FiberworX – and have issued separate requests for proposals for design, construction and project management.

At least five or six companies have expressed interest, Davis said, and CUDs are expected to select a vendor by June 9th.

“We’re dancing as fast as we can,” he said. “But this is no small business. The only thing we have had in the past with which we can compare this is the electrification of the United States in the 1920s and 30s when they built the grid. It’s a huge undertaking and it will be done, but it will take some time. “

“We saw from the start that this is an opportunity for us to do something remarkable,” Kio said. “If we succeed – and we hope and believe we will – this very well has the potential to be a game changer for rural broadband everywhere and can probably serve as a model for other parts of the country. As well.”

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