To the editor: Vermonters would be remiss if they did not mention sluggish internet among the state’s top economic woes. Poor rural internet penetration has frustrated attempts to bridge the economic gap between Vermont and the rest of New England, stifling prospects for business where we need wealth creation most. Moreover, with Christine Hallquist’s ballooning estimates for rolling out fiber optic, jumping from an average $400 to $550 million, a remedy for this problem seems far away.
Personally, my house lies just beyond the end of the fiber optic route dug in Cornwall despite being right across the street from a telecom shelter- some consider this peculiarity characteristic of rural Vermont more broadly. People find themselves out of reach of the services they need, showing the state of Vermont has yet to provide a broad-base solution. Yet, I consider myself geographically blessed in the Champlain Valley, and I know a broadband extension will eventually arrive. However, many Vermonters do not share this privilege; for them, the rural broadband effort is another perennially promised, over budget, and behind schedule project bottlenecked by labor and funding shortages.
In his June 8th commentary in VTDigger, Tom Evslin articulated a compelling case for providing first responders with Starlink dishes. More ambitiously, Myers Mermel, a candidate “running an ideas-driven campaign” wants to use a seat in the U.S. Senate to effect greater change in how the state of Vermont allocates its resources. Instead of accepting the cost of laying fiber optic, his platform proposes axing the fiber project altogether in favor of adopting satellite internet coverage for the entire state, while using the money previously allocated to pay for fiber to be used to provide free broadband service at no additional cost to the taxpayer for three years. Although it is speculation to argue we can accomplish a fiber rollout with a $550 million dollar allocation before a formal competitive bidding process; the Starlink costs are known today and are relatively fixed, according to the video on his website. High speed internet from Starlink could transform the economic landscape of Vermont. It would immediately provide reliable, tamper-resistant infrastructure, and simplify maintenance.
Perhaps more importantly, it would solve the problem of providing exhaustive, broad-base infrastructure to everyone, regardless of how rural, a problem that has eluded government at all levels since the George W. Bush administration. An achievement even in the neighborhood of this magnitude would show all Vermonters that government can deliver modern and reliable solutions to the entire population on a reasonable schedule and budget.
I believe Myers Mermel has the right idea in looking for alternatives to the current establishment-prescribed solutions. With the smallest economy in the country, Vermont needs resourceful politicians to spend out money wisely for the greatest possible return on investment. – Joshua Bechhoefer, Cornwall