September 28, 2011 Minutes
The Halifax Broadband Committee was called to order at 6:30pm Wednesday, September 28, 2011 at the Halifax Town Office. Present were committee members Edee Edwards, Earl Holtz, Gretchen Becker, and Jessica Bruno. Curtis Carroll was absent. Members of the public present were Margo Avakian, Rhonda Ashcraft, Alan Ashcraft, and Ann Manwaring.
Edwards moved and Bruno seconded that the minutes of the August 10, 2011 meeting be approved as written, and the motion passed 2-0-1 (Holtz abstained and Becker was not present yet).
Edwards reported that the Halifax Town Website Committee has not had a meeting yet. A survey went out with the tax bills asking people whether they have internet access, what type they have, do they have access to the town website, and an area for comments/suggestions.
Bruno reported that there will be a webinar for government websites from the Snelling Center for Government Thursday 9/29 at 6pm, and Friday 9/30 at 12pm. Best practices for putting together a website template for municipalities will be reviewed, as well as recommendations to keep the community informed about what’s happening with their local government.
Becker reported that the residents she talked to on the test route were eager to assist. She did e-mail the survey to one person, but that person did not reply. She also asked people if the surveys were mailed, would they complete it? Two people were unlikely or not going to return the survey, and 2 would definitely return the survey.
Becker proposed that we get a list of house sites from Patty Dow or the Listers and perhaps compile a list of e-mail addresses. Holtz reported that there is a database of addresses and phone numbers from the EOC. Edwards expressed that the Committee must consider the privacy concerns about phone numbers, but if they are in the phone book, it is public information. Edwards will confirm with the Select Board whether there are privacy concerns and whether we can use the EOC list as a starting point. Edwards also suggested that it might be easier to start a new list as we don’t have land versus house sites. Avakian commented that the planning commission did a survey to see if they wanted a commercial district established. Manwaring suggested going to the VT State Dept of Taxes website to obtain a grand list. The codes on the grand list will distinguish between land owners and home owners. The Listers would have submitted this to the State.
Bruno reported that the home owners that she spoke to were eager to talk as well and the response to the survey was positive. Some of them had tried contacting vendors themselves already and are frustrated with the lack of available service options. A general discussion followed involving the Committee and the members of the public about HughesNet service and its expensive price. Discussion then turned to how Fairpoint determines where to draw the line for offering DSL. Holtz reported that it has to do with how far you are from the closest switch (Gates Pond/Collins Rd or Reed Hill Rd). There are even some roads where some residents can get it while others can’t.
Becker reported that when she went to NJ, she tested speed (cable internet service) and it came in at 15mbps. She went to Cherokee GA on an Indian reservation and via WiFi got 2.91mbps upload and .72mbps download. In Statesville, GA she got 3mbps download and upload. With HughesNet in Halifax, VT she gets .8mbps upload and .5mbps download.
Edwards reported that through VT Yankee funding, the fire department emergency operations center has HughesNet. As they discovered in the emergency they had over the last few weeks, HughesNet does not work in a rainstorm. During the storm, nothing communicated via satellite. They also experienced trouble with the phone lines. When 2-3 people starting going online at the same time, they quickly hit their download maximum with HughesNet and there was scrambling to try to get HughesNet to remove the stop on the service due to the download max. The whole situation was very challenging and concerning as most of the emergency information was coming via e-mail. The town may want to bring up whether the school could be used as the emergency center as emergency personnel could not get information about what was out there. Holtz reported that the school uses Sovernet and they have a better network. They also have more computers that are permanently set up. The fire dept had loaner computers and lots going on around them. Had the town had fiber optic set up, they could have facilitated the emergency response better.
R Ashcraft asked what the Committee’s plan was. Holtz replied that the Committee wants to facilitate having a vendor provide broadband service to town. VTel is supposed to provide last mile wireless service to towns that don’t have it now, but that’s not until 2013.
Each member of the committee reported on their further research and discussion with their assigned vendors:
Edwards did not have any further communication with Sovernet.
Becker did not have further communication with Fairpoint.
Holtz reported that per Carroll, Vtel is getting raw from being questioned, so he will give them some space.
Bruno reported that as she has to pay for the Verizon Wireless device, she will not do anything further with it as she has not been able to get a signal in Halifax. Holtz reported that 4 other people in town that he had spoken with had not had any luck with similar devices either. Bruno reported that Poultney, VT set up free internet access through e-Vermont with a company named Anaptyx Municipal. Bruno will do some research as to how the town acquired the WiFi.
Holtz reported that he has not been able to get a hold of GAW and had to fill out their online form again.
Recent Broadband News:
Holtz reported that FairPoint will be laying off approximately 400 people. He also reported that there is information regarding Vermont getting your business online which is partnered with Google which is for creating websites for small businesses. Holtz also reported that VT State Library is offering courses online.
Hearing from visitors:
There was much discussion about finding a way to get fiber to the Town. It was again expressed that until we get the fiber to the town, we’ll have a hard time getting vendors here (if the infrastructure is not in place). Various ways were suggested for getting the whole community involved. The Committee with further consider additional ways of using their survey and the need for a more adequate emergency center as vehicles to get information out to the community. The Committee will find out what information had been collected from the surveys that went out with the tax bills.
Agenda items for the next meeting October 12, 2011:
-Resolution of the broadband survey
-Discuss possible petition
-Old business still open
Edwards moved and Becker seconded to adjourn the meeting at 7:52pm and the motion passed 4-0-0.