ENOSBURGH – The first and only employee of the Northwest Communications Union District started work last Monday.
Director Sean Kio, the former director of community development for Enosburgh, told the Messenger he was impatient to have internet access in Franklin and Grand Isle counties.
The Northwest Communications Union District was formed in August 2020, when a group of volunteers came together to begin troubleshooting connectivity issues in the area.
“Our mission is to serve all of our premises within four years, so there is no household that can say they are under-served or unserved,” Kio said.
One of the good things about COVID, he said, was that broadband access has become a problem for everyone, be it students, teachers, parents or of workers. Although Vermont tried to increase connectivity with grants for companies to outsource in rural areas, the problems remained stagnant for a decade.
“It’s a Vermont problem and the Vermonters are trying to solve it,” Kio said.
Frustrated by the lack of movement towards fiber optic technology amid the fire of the COVID-19 pandemic – when internet access became more crucial than ever – volunteers from Enosburgh, Montgomery and Fairfax created the NWCUD in order to ensure that no house would be without service.
A year later, Kio said the NWCUD now covers 14 communities and is currently in talks with Milton and Colchester to potentially join the district.
Before the communities of Isle La Motte were added, the district had 14,090 locals, but 6,602 were considered underserved.
More than two thousand households in the NWCUD had no connectivity, representing 47% of the district, Kio said.
Historically, private connectivity providers have focused on profitable, more urban areas like village centers and municipalities for their services, creating unfair prices due to lack of competition and leaving rural areas underserved or completely unserved.
Usually in Vermont, telephone lines (DSL) or cable networks are the primary lines of communication and networks are built from older and archaic technologies.
But fiber-optic connectivity would be a game-changer: Kio said that in about four years, the NWCUD hopes to grow to serve all communities in its districts.
“It would reduce the chances,” Kio said of the connectivity expansion plan. “It’s certainly not easy work, proverbial mountains to move. Socially and economically, there are so many unseen advantages. We can’t wait to see what happens here.
Join the neighborhood
Bringing communities into the NWCUD and providing electricity to unserved and underserved communities would ultimately cost a surplus of $ 100 million, but would ideally lead to lower bills for residents.
To join the district, city councils must vote on a resolution to join and appoint a representative and three alternates to sit at council meetings on the first Thursday of each month.
Prior to being appointed Director, Kio was Enosburgh’s representative to the NWCUD.
Partnering with connectivity providers such as Comcast, the district will create an infrastructure that provides affordable Internet access options while keeping prices manageable by creating competition in the district.
Although Vermont is receiving $ 250 million for broadband infrastructure through the American Rescue Plan Act, Kio said CUDs are not asking municipalities for money for the project. He is free to join or leave the CUD without risk at any time.
As the new director of NWCUD, Kio said he was currently onboarding more staff and conducting a feasibility study.
“We are looking to build a fiber optic infrastructure to serve everyone with at least 100 megabytes [of power]”Kio said.” We prioritize affordability, universal access and underserved and unserved housing. “
Additional staff, such as administrators and project managers, will submit requests for proposals for cable and network installation work that residents require.
“We have a good team of people, who are working to be self-sufficient,” said Kio. “We want local communities to have a little more control … we want them to have the supplier of choice, which forces companies to compete on price.”