Vermont's Muni Broadband Plan Sounds Half Right

from the details dept

Municipal broadband is something that often sounds great in theory, but the actual execution of which sometimes leaves much to be desired. For instance, many muni WiFi projects have been dogged by poor initial reviews, while muni fiber efforts seem to show better results. When meaningful competition has failed to emerge in the market, it can make sense for the government to create a common infrastructure, then open it to private service providers who can use it and compete with one another. Vermont’s governor has bought into this idea, and wants to make the state the first “e-state”, meaning it has universal broadband coverage and ubiquitous wireless coverage. He wants the state to issue $40 million in bonds to build infrastructure so as to attract more private investment from telecom operators, hoping in turn that blanketing the state with broadband will boost its economy. On the face of it, it doesn’t necessarily sound like a bad plan; of course, the devil’s in the details. One article mentions spending the money to build a fiber network and towers for wireless networks, while Tom Evslin, who is part of a group that provided significant input to the plan, says much of the money will be spent on building towers. Building a statewide fiber network sounds like a decent idea, but building a state-owned network of towers for mobile operators to use seems like a waste of money. It’s not a lack of towers that holds mobile coverage back, it’s the low return on other capital costs and operating expenses for operators in sparsely populated areas. In the grand scheme of things, the structure of a tower is a minimal cost, when compared to the base station equipment located on it and the operational costs of backhaul and power. Evslin says that the state hopes to generate revenue to pay the bonds back by renting space on the towers, so it’s unclear how the state building them will offer operators enough cost savings to build out their networks. Government taking direct steps to get involved in the telecom market isn’t an intrinsically bad thing, particularly when it wants to encourage buildout in underserved areas. However, government needs to be careful that it’s doing the right things, rather than just doing something.

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Comments on “Vermont's Muni Broadband Plan Sounds Half Right”

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Chris says:

Easily Possible if....

I’ve worked for two seperate ISP’s who offer WiFi Access up to 10 and 30miles from sites. Ranging from 900MHz, 2.4GHz, 5.2GHz, 802.11, and MMDS (relatively all the same 2.4ghz spectrum). The cost isn’t the issue here. Especially since the government would’nt have to pay for the land in the first place to erect the towers. This is what is the most costly thing to any private investor hoping to secure a site for RF towers. That and the FCC licenses, which are also extremely easy for any state government to obtain. Considering those two costs will come at nothing, and the only cost will be towers and equipment with an entire state of potential customers the revenue won’t be a problem. That’s if people want to sign up for an ISP run by the government. Which will then give them full legal rights to monitor every single bit of data that you care to access. The only thing they might have going for them is low rates, but since it’s the government whos now underbidding every competitor how do you sue them for monopolizing the market? Instead of asking for funding, the governer should raise state taxes by $10, if there’s at least 4 million taxable residents then there’s your money. Make it free access, in populated areas, and then keep that $10 tax around to generate your $40mill a year in upkeep. Force telcos to offer the fibre access we were supposed to have by now to every home in the US, and there’s a huge infrastruct problem solved. Too practical however, so it’s more than likely this will never see the light of day.

misanthropic humanist says:

questions of scale

Yep, the kickers in that initial capital outlay. And the long tail to claw it back. I’d rather see a healthy private sector on it, and governments can best help by providing very favourable loans insteas of grand social schemes to provide commodity infrastructure to all and his dog.

Problem for the USA that we don’t have in England, Holland and Belgium is scale. You guys have so much wide open empty space. If I were tackling this in America I would hold off for wi-fi to really blossom.

Another good reason for state intervention is to kick the private sectors ass when it stagneates, like now we have tons of dark fiber
that is being sat on to artificially raise bandwidth prices, and a few monopolistic giants that need breaking up again to make that market competitive again.

Another thing I would do if I were sorting this out in the USA is to take a big stick to the FCC or remove their teeth altogether, open up the air to fresh entrepreneurs with the minimum possible regulation.

misanthropic humanist says:


I don’t think you’ll ever get those tax concessions. Not after the bloody war and everything. But given what you say Chris, line of sight would seem the way to go. Maser point to point is a good technology for medium range mini-backbones. We have some here between Birmingham bullring and the Telecom Tower in London. But England is also relatively flat, you got mountains.

Angry Rivethead says:

VT and commo

As a native Vermonter, I can say the state faces two problems. First and foremost is what was mentioned above about return on service. There just isn’t the population density to support much of anything. You’ve got to have ALOT of subscribers to make a system profitable. Thats why theres decent cell service in Rutland, decent service in Burlington…and the rest of the state is totally without a signal.

The irony is, as a Vermonter (currently in exile in Massachusetts, due to the lack of employment in my state), I would very much like to see cell coverage and ubiquitous broadband in VT. I figure its about the only way to get decent paying jobs into the area without trashing the state. Lets face it Massachusetts is a 5h17hole, but the pay is good. I want Vermont’s pay to be on par, without being a dump. 90% of my job could be done telecommuted, however, I am unable to, due to the lack of broadband support in VT.

The other problem that VT has is hippies, and retired yuppies from places like New Jersey, that move to Vermont and run thier traps at town meetings; protesting the erection of towers and blocking transmitters. Aparently Vermont is a magnet for retards that see to think my cellular phone is going to cause my calf to grow three heads or migrating birds are going to blindly commit suicide by flying into towers, because they weren’t there last year when they came through. Sound s nuts but in small state these whackjobs actually get taken seriously.

Tom Evslin (user link) says:

lack of towers

Lack of towers IS specifically the problem which prevents both good rural broadband coverage in Vermont and sufficient traditional cell service. As some readers have pointed out, the regulatory obstacles in Vermont to building towers HAVE been a problem as well as lack of investment.

Part of the Governor’s proposal is to streamline the regulatory process not only for the new authority but also for others who might build towers.

The plan is NOT for the state to be a retail service provider. It IS for the state to invest private money raised through authority bonds in infrastructure including land (plus the state’s own land and ROW), towers, and IP and power connections for those towers.

The expectation is that private operators will lease space on the towers for radios to provide both traditional cellular and IP-based services. The state will also be a tenant on the tower for its own first response and other communication networks (built on IP).

And the state will design its service delivery for the next decade based on universal connectivity – that’s the e-state part.

The three year time table is tight. No state even has 100% cellular coverage today. But sometimes (and it’s my hope this is one of them) a bold plan has the best chance of success.

It is much more exciting to make Vermont the connectivity leader than to just trail less far behind.

The full text of what the governor said on the plan to be an e-state is here.

Brad Fitzpatirck says:

Too many mountains

It’s great that Vermont wants to lead the country in an emerging technology but the topography of the state is to hilly to make it cost effective. One can barley get Verizon cell phone service in many areas. From a practical standpoint the state has roughly 700,000+ people in it, many of whom are older and most likely don’t own computers. If 3/4 of the population (525,000 people) own one computer each (i think that a very generous estimate) It would cost the state 76 dollars per person to implement this network. It would be cheaper for the government to supply each household with one highspeed internet line and a router then total wireless coverage. The cost just isn’t worth the benefit.

Mike (user link) says:

$40mil for towers and radio equipment, right..

Those hippies must have given some pot to the governor.

I worked for a tower company in the past, and can safely say, that $40M will get you approximately 300 towers, assuming NO cost to acquire land. Vermont is 9,614 sq. miles. 9614 / 300 = 32 sq. miles per tower.

Also having been in the wireless ISP business, I can safely say, no f-in way are you going to cover an area of 32 sq. miles via 2.4Ghz Wifi. You’re lucky to get 1 mile radius and that’s pushing the boundaries of legality (FCC). The higher the frequency, the more power you need to push further and the less penetration it has into immobile objects (e.g. a MOUNTAIN). So assuming they get an FCC license and can get 10 mile radius with some magical hardware (that is FREE), you still fall short of covering everyone.

Keep in mind, none of this takes into account hardware costs. For a base-station radio you’re looking at $10k – $20k that would support semi-dense areas and isn’t even telco grade stuff. Telco grade you’re looking at $50k PER BASE STATION.

Explain to me how $40M is going to cover the entire state of Vermont?

Chris says:

Re: $40mil for towers and radio equipment, right..

Also having been in the wireless ISP business, I can safely say, no f-in way are you going to cover an area of 32 sq. miles via 2.4Ghz Wifi.

Not sure if you mean to say 2.4ghz wifi as in 2.4ghz 802.11 or the actual band itself. Anyway I’ve worked for two seperate companies, one that had 5.2ghz access up to 12miles, and another that uses MMDS (same licensed frequency sprint uses for their wireless) up to 30miles. As far as being practical for roaming coverage it’s not, but it’s cheeper to build a site then to try and lay cable anyday.

j says:


Here in VT we won’t build towers because they mess up the beautiful mountainscapes. This is why half the state is without cell coverage. Building towers will never settle well with any percent of the large population of hippies that live here. It’s funny that this has been brought up, though…you can get broadband almost anywhere you want here (but, of course, usually not mobile coverage). There are companies who offer satellite internet access, and Comcast has a lot of the main routes ready to go for people who want broadband.

Jimshead says:

Vermont DOES have coverage.

Vermont does have very excellent cellular coverage. However, if you were a Verizon or Nextel/Sprint customer you would be missing out. Yes. I work for Unicel. In the last couple of years Unicel has added 30 new towers to now have 110+. I have customers from Newport, Waterbury, Morrisville, Fairfax, Hinesburg, Waitsfield, etc who ALL receive signal at their homes. I recenly moved from Burlington to Shelburne (before I worked for Unicel) and was amazed the my Verizon service did not work in our home.
There ARE cellular companies that provide signal in many rural areas across the state. To make the statement that cell signal only exists in Burlington and Rutland is ignorant to the industry.
The infrastructure is already in place to get this going. And a small question: Since the gov’t can claim imminent domain to take private land from residents and citizens, then why can’t it use this law as well to gain access to the towers already in place?

Billy says:

Blanketing Wifi

Oakland Country in Michigan is doing a blanketing wifi access thing.
It is the Country itself who is funding this though and not the state.
It is expected to be mostly in place by the end of 2007.
I would expect it to take at least a year longer than that with the way most things are done though.
Benefits of living in one hell of a rich county (2nd richest county in country last I heard, may have changed by now)
And also, the county DOES have the population needed to make it feasible.
They just have to convince everyone to sign up.
I for one would never.
The government can go through their little loops to see what I do on the net, but I won’t willingly hand them all access.

Jamie says:

what about a national thing???

Yeah ,

I live in Vermont, and I sell Unicel Service, and Vermont has lots of hills and mountains—so maybe this should be a more nationwide plan—-thats what we all want anyway ?? Right!! If this was spread nationwide it would cost less than $9 per household to cover the entire USA. Yes —there are states that cost more to cover—-like Vermont, but don’t we all want nationwide coverage anyway?? I would love to be able to get nationwide service that had data and voice service everywhere, that would be wonderful. I think it might actually be possible if we took it seriously. Lets let a company like Unicel —–who invests more in rural market build outs –after all –they are used to making the most coverage out of every tower they build. Give them the bandwith to make it happen !!!

Mike says:

watch the fight - vermont broadband at risk

caption from an e-mail
In looking at the plans for Vermont telecom it looks as though the state plans to make money
off the cell towers.Look at the statement made by Tom Evslin

Evslin says that the state hopes to generate revenue to pay the bonds back by renting space on the towers, so it’s unclear how the state building them will offer operators enough cost savings to build out their networks.

Look at the Bio of who had the most input into the plan, Tom Evslin (it may not be a bad thing)

Evslin was cofounder (with wife Mary), Chairman and CEO of ITXC Corp. The NASDAQ-listed company grew from startup in 1997 to the world’s leading provider of wholesale VoIP and one of largest carriers of international voice minutes of any kind by 2004 when it was acquired.

Evslin conceived, launched, and ran AT&T’s first ISP, AT&T WorldNet Service. WorldNet popularized all-you-can-eat flatrate monthly pricing for Internet access and forced the rest of the industry, including AOL and MSN, to follow suit. Evslin has been blamed and praised for this ever since. He is unrepentant.

Evslin is a member of the Board of Directors of The Snelling Center for Government and of ShoreCap Exchange. In the private sector, he is a board member of FeedBlitz LLC.

I have no problem with the state making money off the towers but they have to look at the whole thing from a technical standpoint and not just the big players renting space from the state.

Ownership of the Towers is a big issue and following is the problem I see
Everyone wants to own one, (to rent the space.), In the last week I have been approached by several land owners who want one,
Town ownership of a tower on town owned property ( That Allen Calfee is looking to improve the trails on ) and now the state is jumping on the band wagon ! This is going to be a fun fight to watch with everyone from the state on down looking at tower ownership.

People are finding creative ways to try to block this (fiber-optic) venture , going as far to say the select board is wasting its time by looking at the high speed internet option when we should be looking at the subject of high property taxes, others brought out other things and it is easy to see the players are- they are trying to fight something that makes sense. A good affordable fiber-optic network that would make money for the town,lower our taxes, create jobs and keep our young people in Vermont!

The wireless end of things is just not ready.It cannot ever come near the price,offerings or stability of a fiber optic network, a company like Burlington telecom can produce for us. However if the state and local goverment along with the wireless and fiber optic network providers all work together we will have a good strong broadband infrastructure. The fiber optic networks can only help improve the future of our fixed wireless and mobile (cell service) networks.

If people do not stop the fighting and learn to work together Statewide Vermont Broadband will never happen


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