Innovative model brings fiber to rural Vermont

Innovative model brings fiber to rural Vermont

Summary: I recently moved even farther out in the sticks of rural Massachusetts. We're far enough out that DSL service to the area preceded our arrival by about 2 weeks.

TOPICS: Networking

I recently moved even farther out in the sticks of rural Massachusetts. We're far enough out that DSL service to the area preceded our arrival by about 2 weeks. When we had DSL installed, the tech pointed out that I should actually be getting close to 3.5MBps since fiber had recently been run to a junction box just down the road. Since I was only about 300 feet from a fiber termination, I asked what I thought was a reasonable question: "So when can I get FiOS?"

The DirecTV tech who was installing my satellite dish nearby started giggling and even the Verizon tech had a good chuckle. No fiber to the home out my way just yet, it seems, despite penetration of fiber runs into the area.

Yet 24 towns in rural Vermont are getting fiber to the home (FTTH) as part of a non-profit, publicly-funded venture called East Central Vermont Community Fiber Network. This network in intended to not only provide broadband to underserved communities (many of the homes in these towns have only dial-up access with only a small percentage even reaching 56K), but also to build an infrastructure to support future growth.

According to the group,

Compared to fiber, copper technology is obsolete. Fiber is the fastest known technology, using light as its transmission medium and one of the world's most stable materials, glass. The fastest available equipment connecting to it does not come close to tapping its potential. As faster equipment becomes available, upgrades are relatively simple.

This infrastructure would benefit local businesses and schools as well as home users and make hundreds of channels of television available for local groups to broadcast over the network (i.e., mass public access).

Is this an actual sustainable model of publicly-funded infrastructure that benefits communities directly? The final outcome remains to be seen, but it appears that we may not have to wait for the telcos to bring us the sort of bandwidth we need to support education, business, and communications in the years to come.

Topic: Networking

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • Downside to living in the Boonies

    People who choose to live out in the middle of nowhere should expect limited utility services. It is expensive for Telcos and Cable Companies and other utilities to provide the infrastructure for their services to a smattering of homes out by "Walden pond". You are lucky to have any terrestrial broadband at all. Maybe in 10+ years wireless technology will advance so everywhere can be nowhere and there is no problem with high speed communications. Oh, and good luck with rain fade for your satellite service.
    • This is the point, though, isn't it?

      It takes some new business models, but even those of us in the boonies are starting to see some pretty serious bandwidth. Hopefully similar models can also be applied in developing countries where broadband is prohibitively expense.

      Sure, I chose to live out here and I'm glad I did. What about the farmers, though, or inner city kids, even, who live in underserved areas? You can't raise cows in Manhattan, but I sure am in favor of giving the farmers that bring me my Cabot Extra Sharp some broadband.

    • Well, Aren't You the Pompous Urbanite?

      I understand that our country has a huge geographical distance to cover, but there is no excuse for us being something like 20th in the world in broadband penetration. Our country spent the money to build roads and install telephone lines to these rural areas; broadband Internet is simply the next step in developing our nation's infrastructure. Oh, and by the way, don't be so arrogant - people might start thinking you're a complete jerk.
    • So the people who feed you don't deserve services?

      You are an idiot. First, they don't live anywhere near the middle of nowhere, if they did, they would be my neighbors, and they aren't. Second, if my neighbors did live in town, you'd be eating raw Soylent Green for dinner and pedaling to work, as there would be no beef, no grain, and no oil or coal to fuel your entire system. Just because cities are big doesn't make them important.
  • It ain't over till it's over.

    Don't give up on DSL. It is a well-kept secret that an Australian post-doc in electrical engineering has developed advanced mathematical noise-canceling algorithms that allow **DSL** to work at 230 MBps. (Yes!!!) His doctoral dissertation is being kept confidential until the patents have been issued. (I think the university, which owns the rights, can expect a few dollars in profits ...)
  • Matthew Simmons advocates more telecommuting

    Every day, over 14 million barrels of oil is burned in the
    United States just for transportation. Matthew Simmons,
    the quintessential investment banker to the energy
    industry (over $123 billion dollars of transactions), strongly
    encourages us to focus on reducing that consumption by
    increasing our telecommuting.

    14 million barrels x $110/barrel = $1.54 Billion
    Dollars/day. While we won't be cutting out anywhere near
    that amount of money, it does give us some additional
    political pressure to direct to our advantage.
  • RE: Innovative model brings fiber to rural Vermont

    Vermont socialism is a viable answer only in Vermont.
    --Karl Marks
    • Would you rather pay 2X as much for your food?

      If the people in the "less served" areas of the US were to simply charge what their product is worth, you wouldn't have to fund their "socialism", as they'd be rich. Unfortunately, the guy sitting in the office downtown makes all the money, then gripes about giving a little back to the folks he ripped off in the first place. Ask a farmer what he makes on a pound of beef, and subtract that from your cost at the store. All that money is going to someone in town, and most of them didn't "do" anything, except buy it, move it, store it, or sell it. Meanwhile the guy who took care of the animal or crop for most of a year, spent hours every day in the heat and cold, dust and mud, and pays tons of money in taxes for the land he uses to feed you, gets squat.
      It may be socialism, but it beats communism, and if you make them mad enough, they'll keep their food for those who help make it, and you'll starve.
  • And here I thought...

    ...That I was going to be reading a health issue article.

    "More fiber in rural Vermont!"

    hmmmm... rural bran muffin distribution to the kids?

    Oh... You meant "Fibre-optic".

    Heh. I just couldn't resist, even though technically your spelling is valid too.
    • LOL!

      Thanks for the laugh, Zorched :)

  • RE: Innovative model brings fiber to rural Vermont

    I live in an apartment complex that has FIOS (to the junction box, then copper the rest of the way.) I have never heard a good reason to use FIOS as the copper should drag the speed down, yet they promise it won't affect the speed at all.
  • RE: Innovative model brings fiber to rural Vermont

    Walden Pond. I have a business with 9 other business in the middle of a Winchester, VA. But we 10 stores are two blocks from the terminis of Comcast one direction and 1200' from another direction and 2000' from yet another direction. We are even in the county where you can string it on a pole. We can not have it. So there we sit with sucky DSL the worst excuse for high speed. Granted it's better than dial up. Verizon won't up the DSL to Fios. So just like the earily days they are dumb. We are businesses not homes. They should be planning for deepest penitration. It costs more to finish the mile tomorrow than doing it today. Because someone will get the delivery right with wireless or sat. and then what happens to dated builds that never returned revenue. It's called planning and not get it today s... tomorrow.
  • RE: Innovative model brings fiber to rural Vermont

    I have a friend who lives outside one of those towns, Brattleboro VT, he loves to send me screen caps of his 14000+ fiber speed test results, where here in the middle of Fort Lauderdale my Comcast caps out at 5700 at 3am Sunday mornings when I am the only one on my node...
  • Most of the commenters have no idea..

    ... no idea about the VT fiber effort and no idea how to do broadband right.

    I live in one of the towns where the fiber (bran muffins, hehe, nice one Zorched) is coming and I can assure you all, it is not about bringing broadband to farmers. Sure, there are a few farms in these towns, but there is a basic principal at work here: it costs $10K-$25K per linear mile to run fiber. The materials are a tiny fraction of that, most of it is the labor, so that cost will only go up with time.

    What that means is that there is a minimum number of subscribers needed to make the whole thing economical. So far, I have only heard of an $100/mo phone-internet-TV triple-play being offered on this fiber service. That certainly reduces the number of subscribers needed per mile, and it allows you to subsidize lower subscriber densities with higher ones, but it also dramatically reduces the actually number of subscribers of those who have it available.

    That said, I am all for laying fiber where it makes sense. Any one who is putting down new copper is just wasting time and money, but putting fiber in line next Comcast cable in moderate subscriber densities is a week business decision, and putting fiber where there is no competition but the densities don't justify it is just plain dumb unless you are replacing existing copper that needs to come out anyway.

    The smart way to service farmers and other areas that don't have the density to make sense of fiber, is with wireless. The same $10K that serves 1 mile fiber fiber can serve up to 100 square miles with wireless gear. We are talking multi-Mbps here, not 100+ like fiber, but 3-10 for sure.

    Now, I am a about as techy-geeky as they get, and I love my broadband, and faster is good, but really, as you approach 10Mbps, it all looks the same. Sure, it would be nice to download my Linux DVD images in less than a few hours, but with a little planning head, I can save $70/mo and stick with my 1.5Mbps DSL.

    The bottom line is that this is still a rich service for the rich. If the folks involved were really true Vermont socialists, there would be $30/mo fixed wireless broadband in the rural areas, $30/mo fiber broadband where density allows, and free basic web access via wifi at every point of service. Oh, and to really keep it socialist, they would have hand out free laptops by the truck load with the huge profits.

    A couple of loosely related final thoughts:

    1. Satellite is OK for big downloads but browsing is like a good 56K dial-up (not as bad as you think) and always will be because of the way the web works and certain laws of physics. The details are off topic here.

    2. Cabot, Stoney Fields, Ben and Jerry's, and all the other "big" farms have had broadband as long as they have needed it: T-1 lines can go anywhere for $200-$2000/mo. Fiber to the farm is not going to lower your food prices, certainly not at $100/mo. Buying your food from local farms might lower your costs some day. Actually, it already would if everyone did it, but that's off topic too.