OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
SPECIAL MEETING MINUTES
June 26, 2012
Call to Order
The meeting started at 5:30 PM at Memorial Hall, Wilmington, VT. Board members in attendance were Edee Edwards and Earl Holtz. Lewis Sumner was not present. Other Halifax residents in attendance were Gretchen Becker, Steve Towne, Marilou Parkhurst, Doug Parkhurst, Marilyn Allen, and Howard Smith. Other towns were also represented at this meeting for the Broadband Target Community Meeting of Dover, Wilmington, Whitingham, Halifax, and Readsboro. People who identified themselves when speaking during the meeting included State Rep. John Moran, and Cliff Duncan of Duncan Cable.
Karen Marshall, Chief of Connect VT, an administrative department of the State, gave a presentation and led the discussion about Broadband (high speed Internet) projects in our towns.
Broadband is defined as a speed of 768Kbps download / 200Kbps upload, which includes standard DSL. From the state’s perspective, satellite internet is not included as “broadband” due to issues of unreliability of speed and service.
Fixed broadband connections include what is sometimes called “fixed wireless broadband” with radios and airwaves to a laptop, whereas “wireless” broadband means mobile broadband to a cell phone that can be carried around.
The VTel project, Wireless Open World (WOW), which is planned to serve a large percent of Halifax by December 31, 2013 is a “wireless fixed network.” It will use 4G LTE, a newer wireless technology. This can also be used for Smart Grid communication, and can be used for cellular phone coverage. VTel has been working with a couple of major providers (unnamed due to ongoing contractual discussions) to try to expand cellular service as well.
Cellular phone coverage is what keeps Ms. Marshall up at night.
Rte 112 through Halifax is a “target corridor” to get expanded cell phone coverage, which means there is some possibility of funded projects. CoverageCo is the name of one company working in central Vermont with state funding to deploy microcells (newer, smaller cell phone signal devices which are deployed in a chain-wise fashion). CoverageCo. may do some of their own expansion in Southern Vermont as well, according to Marshall. CoverageCo wholesales their infrastructure, in this case to Sprint, which provides the spectrum license and ultimately service to consumers.
Ms. Marshall showed maps of Halifax (and other towns in Southern Vermont) to be served by high speed by the end of 2013. There is a small section of “red” on the map which indicates areas that do not presently have any funded projects specifically coming to them. This area corresponds to a section of Hanson Road, Hatch School Road, and Wheeler Road. Connect VT’s statistics indicate that there are 584 households in Halifax, of which 115 have broadband access now, and 440 of which will be served with WOW, leaving 29 unserved locations.
To get projects for these unserved locations, there are a couple of options:
- Fairpoint’s penalty-funded investments will be revealed by the Public Service Board this week. Ms. Marshall noted that Readsboro was one of the 19 towns which will get Fairpoint coverage, but she didn’t mention Halifax.
- A $3.6M grant proposal request from the State (VTA) to vendors went out in mid-May and is intended to ensure that areas like these are serviced. It was stated that they are reviewing these with the expectation that by the end of August, these areas will have projects identified and put in the pipeline. These projects will also have a Dec. 31, 2013 completion date.
Cliff Duncan of Duncan cable noted that in the 1980’s Vermont began to charge 3x the normal fees in any other state for pole tax. However, it is allowed in Vt to do “End construction,” a process by which individuals can pay to run a line to their property. He stated that it costs $15-22,000 to run cable for one mile. It is hard to recoup that with a $40/month fee.
The total amount of ARRA (American Reinvestment and Recovery Act) funding from the Federal government for Vermont’s high speed Internet is $172M.
Specifically related to the VTEL project, Ms. Marshall says she stays in touch with them, roughly every 2 days. She pointed out that for this project, there are upwards of 150 individual equipment installations. There are engineering design, and frequency designs, and topography plans. The engineers develop “search rings” for where they need the towers, and then go out and physically scout for locations. The project is currently in site-acquisition phase, negotiating with landowners 1 by 1. Then the permitting starts, under Act 248, which determines the category of project. This is a 45-day cycle. The Public Service Board issues the “Certificate of Public Good” with the abutting landowners and town being notified and given a comment period. If a new tower, is need, rather than using an existing site, the permit will go through a longer process.
Approximately 80 of the 150 planned installations are working through the permitting phase, but VTEL has actually submitted only 6 permits so far.
It can take 120 days to go through the process. WOW is also following the Smart Grid pattern, so it is likely Southern Vermont will see coverage before the NW corner of the state.
The Whitingham Free Public Library will be a source of high speed Internet through the FiberConnect Fiber Optic project in 2013.
There was a discussion about Rural electrification, with Marshall noting that a major difference included the fact that there was no competitive landscape for electricity. We also have to deal with technology converging (cell-Internet-TV). Marshall noted that Fairpoint has a 9% loss of customers yearly.
Individual questions were asked throughout the presentation, with a good smattering coming from Halifax townspeople.
Hearing of Visitors
Following the presentation, several Halifax folks stayed and had further questions. Marilou Parkhurst asked if the town of Halifax had seen any permit requests for WOW. Holtz and Edwards said no. Steve Towne had asked Ms. Marshall about any penalties if the vendors failed to deliver. He reported that she answered that VTEL wouldn’t receive the Federal grant money until the project was completed.
Meeting was adjourned at 7:43 PM.
Selectboard Vice Chair