BARRE — Towns and cities in central Vermont are in the process of picking representatives for a community-based high-speed internet service that was approved on Town Meeting Day. Barre, Berlin, Calais, East Montpelier, Marshfield, Middlesex, Montpelier, Northfield, Plainfield, Roxbury, Williamstown and Worcester all voted in favor of joining Central Vermont Internet. No tax dollars will be used to start or support the municipality, which would be initially funded through municipal bonds that offer low interest rates, according to its principal planner. The plan to wire parts of rural Vermont with fiber optic internet has been pushed by Jeremy Hansen, a member of the Berlin Select Board and a computer science professor at Norwich University. On Friday, Hansen said he was very encouraged when he found out every town and city that voted on the service agreed to join up. “The news over the course of the day just got better and better,” he said of Town Meeting Day voting. Hansen said now that the municipality exists, towns and cities are picking representatives to serve on the board that will oversee the municipality. That board's first meeting will take place on May 8, the same day as Barre Town's annual meeting where residents there will be deciding if they want to join CVI. Another town could come on board as well, with Elmore holding a special vote to join the municipality on April 24. At the May 8 meeting, Hansen said the board will likely establish committees and bylaws and decide how many meetings the board will have. He said the board will likely meet twice a month for the first few months to make sure its “organizational ducks are in a row.” Hansen said the first year will focus on putting together the governance of the municipality and making connections with those who may be interested in helping it succeed. He said the second year the board will focus on finding grant money, conducting feasibility studies and putting projects out to bid for construction. He said the hope is to start providing service in 2020. The plan is for the municipality to offer service to every resident and business in member towns, Hansen said. But he said the initial build will be very small. He said Central Vermont Internet will need several years of revenue under its belt before it can be eligible for larger bonds. Hansen said the board will need to be able to show banks that it knows what it's doing and that there is money to be made in order to pay off bonds. When Hansen was pitching the idea to towns this past winter, he cited benefits a community-run service provider could offer that customers can’t bank on with a for-profit ISP. He said for-profit ISPs have been known to collect a user’s browsing habits for sale to third parties, such as advertisers. Hansen said Central Vermont Internet would not be collecting people’s data. Another selling point is customer service, Hansen said, because those who become customers will know when they call with an issue they will be speaking to someone local and not someone at a far-off call center. He also brought up net neutrality, a topic that’s in the national news because the Federal Communications Commission has voted to end it. Net neutrality is the principle that all ISPs must treat data on the internet the same. The American Civil Liberties Union recently put out an article calling for the creation of community-run ISPs. The ACLU cited the same benefits as Hansen. “As the Federal Communications Commission in the Trump era dismantles vital rules protecting net neutrality and users’ privacy, Americans need an internet provider that they can trust and is accountable to the public, not profits. Municipal governments can provide this by offering broadband service themselves and implementing the net neutrality and privacy protections that are no longer required of private companies by federal policies,” the ACLU said.

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