Town of Halifax,VT
May 12, 2010
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 6:36 pm. Committee members in attendance were Edee Edwards, Greg Marguet, Earl Holtz, Curtis Carroll, and Gretchen Becker. Others in attendance were Linda Smith, Susan Maltese, Ms. Maltese’s mother from Florida, Frank Maltese, and Peter Dunn.
Committee Member Introductions As this was the first meeting of the Broadband Committee, each committee member was invited to take a couple of minutes introducing themselves and why they were interested in being on the committee.
Ms. Edwards said that she and her husband both work from home, but satellite internet is not fast enough for some tasks, so she has to go use the wireless connection from DSL provided by the Whitingham Public Library.
Mr. Holtz stated that he was new as a full-time resident, and although he has DSL, he thinks the community will be better served if more people have it. He noted that people sometimes use his driveway to get a cellular signal, as one of the few points in town where that is possible.
Mr. Carroll said that he provides technology support at the Twin Valley High School and Deerfield Valley Elementary School, and has knowledge of student needs as well as the technology. He, his wife and daughter only have dial up service. With high-speed access, he might be able to do some work from home, including not having to drive in on snow days.
Mr. Marguet advised that he gave up on dial up because it was so slow. As a business owner, he’d like to have ability to support a website.
Ms. Becker said that she works from home and does a lot of research on the internet. She has satellite internet, but sometimes hits a vendor penalty that slows the speed down if you download more than a certain amount. She knows parts of Marlboro are getting high speed, and wonders why we can’t have the same for Halifax.
- Election of Chair, Minute Taker, Agenda Amendments
Ms. Becker nominated Edee Edwards to Chair the Committee. Mr. Carroll seconded, and the motion carried 4-0-1 with Ms. Edwards abstaining.
Ms. Edwards advised that minutes would need to be taken at each meeting, listing the members present, including the public, any motions and their outcomes. The minutes must be available 5 days after the meeting, in draft format. She agreed to take them at this meeting, but suggested they should be rotated among the committee members. Greg Marguet agreed to take minutes at the next meeting, but requested to see if we could get a recording device for the meetings.
No agenda amendments were proposed.
- Committee as advisory body
Ms. Edwards noted that the committee is an advisory body to the Select Board, with no authority to spend money or take actions outside of what is approved by the Select Board.
Discussion from all present jumped immediately into the needs in the community, forcing a slight reconfiguration to the planned agenda. Ms. Smith suggested that there would be no real way to justify the economic viability of bringing broadband to the community, but in the 1930’s electricity eventually was brought in. She wanted to know why Marlboro has gotten it, and where the money has come from.
Ms. Smith and Ms. Edwards spoke about concerns with whether Fairpoint is the best, or only possible, vendor. Fairpoint is currently in bankruptcy and according to recent articles is requesting to reduce their commitment to 100% coverage in some municipalities down to 95% coverage, while extending their timeframe an additional 6 months. Halifax is not one of the towns they’d agreed to provide service for as part of the state’s condition for purchase of the utility, in any case.
Mr. Marguet said that a local Fairpoint service technician discussed with him where physical wires might be placed to serve much of the town. The technician also stated personal letters would be better than form letters or a petition to convince Fairpoint that the need is real and they will get subscribers if the investment is made. However, Mr. Marguet did say that it’s not clear on subsequent conversations if follow-through would
It was suggested to research other companies like VTel, and other technologies, and possibly other freelance contractors. Ms. Edwards stated that it would make sense to try to get someone from Fairpoint to come and speak with us as a group.
Questions about the DSL and alternate technologies arose. It sounds like “boosters” can extend the 3 mile reach from the main switch.
Mr. Maltese suggest that a petition at Town Meeting that would offer tax incentives like a 10-15% reduction in taxes to the utility that provided broadband service would be attractive.
Ms. Maltese (?) suggested that a map showing geographic coverage would be helpful. Mr. Holtz proposed to try to have a topographic map that would help if wireless broadband technology, which needs to have towers on high ground, were to be considered.
Ms. Smith stated that reliability and good technical support were important. Mr. Maltese noted that at recent “Disaster LAN” emergency response training, Halifax exceeded the download usage allowed after 15 minutes of the exercise. This was at the Fire Department, and we also have Hughes satellite service at the Town Offices.
Mr. Holtz said that the planning committee is also looking at the Town Plan, and that we might have input there.
Ms. Smith stated that we need to outline the economic impact of NOT having high-speed. She noted that rather than being able to open her own business, she has a job in Massachusetts, which thereby gets some of her tax dollars. She said that Internet service is more important to her than cell coverage. Mr. Holtz said that phone calls can be made over high-speed internet lines, without needing a phone line.
- Recent relevant broadband & Internet activities
At some during the discussions above, Ms. Edwards noted the following recent activities associated with high-speed internet:
- A petition to Fairpoint has been placed in the town office and post office. More than 75 signatures are collected so far. It was asked when the “deadline” for the petition was over and they would be collected. Ms. Edwards said she would check at the next Select Board meeting.
- The town of Halifax Select Board signed a letter of support for having Vermont be a “test case” for Google bringing an ultra-high speed network to a town.
- Supported an effort led by the Halifax–Whitingham Lions Club to obtain planning help through an “eVermont” grant on how to utilize high speed internet.
It was agreed that the goal should be to get economical and reliable high-speed internet service to all citizens in Halifax who are interested.
Ideas written down (not necessarily in order) during a further brainstorming session include:
1. Reach out to other communities, like Marlboro
2. Work with Lions Club to understand technical options
3. Consider providers over state line
4. Vermont Electric Cooperative in a recent article noted having some money for high speed—check with CVPS
5. Learn about Smart Grid technology and $
6. Ask State Rep. Ann Manwaring for help on understanding where the money is
7. Try to find out if all citizens could use wireless at Town Office
8. Find out more about the school grant (eRate) that brought T1 to the school.
9. Consider laptop loans to improve access
10. Try to get media coverage (Deerfield Valley News)
11. Look at 4G wireless technology coming out in 2010
12. Consider TV service
Hearing of Visitors
- Ms. Smith stated that she lives on Rte. 112, and has been waiting for high-speed for 2.5 years. She said that even TV, on a separate dish from her satellite, is expensive. Ms. Edwards enquired about the price for that, which is $30 for bare-bones access, and goes up to $70 or more. Ms. Smith said she spends more than 2 times more on utilities here than at previous locations, and that many people can’t afford this.
- Ms. Maltese’s mother said she was just visiting from Florida
- Mr. Dunn said that in Maryland, he had DSL – FIOS (Fiber Optic) He stated that he didn’t feel that super high-speed was really necessary. 768kbs is vastly superior to dial up at 28kbs, and that he can watch videos at this speed.
- Mr. Maltese stated that his insurance company wants to send him his bill only electronically, and this is just not reasonable to deal with. He also said that sometimes the State was a barrier. Some years back, a cable company had offered to wire Halifax, but the state said we hadn’t gotten their approval. The state gave the contract to a business that went defunct in a year.
- Ms. Maltese said that she has a business and that nowadays all web pages are written assuming you have high-speed. She said that sometimes they switch to a Mac because security software is less needed, and it can be faster.
- Set Regular Meeting Schedule
After discussing whether bi-weekly meetings would be helpful at first, but recognizing conflicts for the chair, it was agreed that the committee would meet monthly, on the 2nd Wednesday of the month, at 6:30 pm. That puts next two meetings on June 9th, and July 14th.
It was suggested that we should see about coverage from the Deerfield Valley News. A feature piece was suggested over committee notes.
- Set Next Agenda
- Discussion of providers and contacts: Mr. Marguet and Ms. Edwards
- Discussion of Marlboro’s committee and success in getting broadband: Ms. Becker
- Discussion of technology options: Mr. Holtz and Mr. Carroll
- Discussion of funding options: Ms. Edwards to try to get Ann Manwaring as guest speaker. Mr. Carroll noted that if we needed to have someone from Montpelier as a guest, the high school is a member of the Learning Networks, and that this service is available for citizens to use.
Meeting attendees finished the night by putting colored push pins into a Property Map of Halifax, representing their current internet service:
- Pink for satellite
- Red for DSL
- Blue for Dial up
The meeting was adjourned at 8:02 pm.