VERSHIRE — Internet customers in six rural Upper Valley towns will have the option to choose from at least two broadband service providers when the state finishes its 36-mile Orange County Fiber Connector this year.
ECFiber, a Royalton-based nonprofit, inked a deal with the Vermont Telecommunications Authority this week to lease strands off the fiber connector, which will run through portions of Chelsea, Vershire, Thetford, Strafford and Sharon, and a small portion of West Fairlee.
The agreement comes months after FairPoint announced it would build high-speed Internet service to that area, pledging to spend $6.6 million in fines owed to the state to bring service to those towns. But some residents in towns like Vershire and Woodstock, where FairPoint is also extending service, had criticized FairPoint’s proposal, saying it would not match a standard proposed by ECFiber and demanded more choice among Internet providers.
FairPoint Vermont President Mike Smith previously told the Valley News that the company’s service would provide options of three, seven and 15 megabits, compared to ECFiber’s proposed offerings of five, 10 and 20 megabits.
With the agreement this week, that choice has arrived, said Karen Marshall, the point person for broadband and cellular communications in the Shumlin administration.
“That’s kind of the great news,” Marshall said in an interview. “You don’t have to choose just one, you have multiple to choose from.”
ECFiber CEO Tim Nulty said the agreement is “certainly a good thing” for residents of the six towns that will be served by the fiber connector.
“Most of the people we’ll be serving … have either no broadband or very, very poor broadband, so for them this is an opportunity … to be attached to one of the best broadband networks in the world,” Nulty said. “That’s a pretty big deal.”
FairPoint also welcomed the news, according to spokeswoman Sabina Haskell.
“We welcome the chance to compete and offer the residents of the area a choice of products. This is what competition is all about,” Haskell said in an email. “We firmly believe that we have comparable speeds at a lower price for our residential customers and business products that no competitor can touch.”
The Vermont Telecommunications Authority is making a quarter of the fiber connector’s 144 strands available to ECFiber, which would be responsible for a quarter of the $850,000 project cost, Nulty said, or roughly $212,000.
That represents a one-time payment for a 30-year lease, McNulty said.
But as ECFiber spends money to connect households to the connector, the organization’s costs are offset at a rate of $1,000 home — for every $3 spent, ECFiber is essentially reimbursed $2, he said. So if ECFiber connects about 350 homes, its lease cost will be negated.
The state has hired fiber optic engineering and design firm Matrix Design Group to design and build the fiber connector. Construction begins next week, according to a news release from ECFiber. The push is part of Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin’s plan to extend broadband service throughout the state by the end of 2013.MORE IN Vermont News
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