State: Broadband, Cell Service Reaches 90 Percent Of Vermonters

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Officials say the state has made progress in the past year in the effort to expand both broadband and cell service and coverage for both now exceeds 90 percent of the state. 

2013 marks the last year to reach last mile, if the state wants to reach Governor Shumlin’s goal of providing broadband coverage to all Vermonters. On Friday, officials vowed to get there in time. 

Karen Marshall heads the state effort to expand cell phone and broadband coverage, which has involved investments by private companies as well as federal and state funds.

Marshall says to date just over 95 percent of Vermont’s households and businesses have access to broadband.  She says she’s confident those without access will have it by the end of next year, although the remaining locations will be the most difficult to reach.

"The last 5 percent are the needle in the haystack," says Marshall. "They are the most far-flung, probably the most expensive and sometimes even the most physically challenging to get to."

Marshall says average connection speeds in Vermont have also increased from 5.5 to 9.7 megabits per second, which is above the national average.  She says speeds will continue to rise beyond the 2013 deadline as demand for more bandwidth increases.

As for cell phone service, state officials say unlike broadband, universal coverage isn’t a realistic goal, given Vermont’s terrain and the expense involved. 

But Marshall says today more than 92% of Vermont households and businesses do have cell phone service, but because the coverage is provided by different companies, there’s a lack of continuity in cell phone reception. 

Marshall says the state is improving coverage with the help of a technology that involves many small units installed along roadways.

"I think we will be one of the first places in the country that is deploying micro cell technology for example, on the top of telephone poles or utility poles, kind of like a daisy chain," she explains.

State officials say they’ve awarded a $5 million dollar grant to the Vermont Telephone Company to expand cell phone coverage in Vermont’s four southernmost counties. 

VTel will use the money to piggyback cell service onto a wireless broadband system it’s building with $116 million in federal grants and loans.

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