DVFiber seeks proposals for public/private partnership

DVFiber, a communications union district (CUD) consisting of 20 towns in southern Vermont, seeks to build a Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network to more than 10,000 unserved and underserved households and businesses. DVFiber recently released a Request for Proposal (RFP) in search of private sector partners to develop a public/private partnership agreement.

DVFiber envisions completing all connections by 2024 in two or three phases, with major progress to be made in the first year. The RFP provides information on member towns, details possible funding avenues identified by its governing board, and sets expectations for the resulting network. “Like our partner CUDs across the state, we are laser-focused on securing affordable, equitable high-speed Internet for our communities,” said DVFiber board Chair Ann Manwaring. “The COVID-19 pandemic has clarified this vital need — for education, for healthcare, and for business.”

The CUD model, established in 2015 by the Vermont legislature and significantly expanded in 2019, allows area towns to band together in search of better broadband, leveraging more local resources and spreading the cost of new build-outs more widely. CUDs have helped Vermont towns by allowing them to collaborate — offering partnership investment opportunities among less dense communities — and benefit from creating network efficiencies, and by building more resilient communities through lessons learned. Nine CUDs currently exist in the state.

DVFiber, organized as Deerfield Valley Communications Union District (DVCUD) in April of 2020, originally brought Halifax, Marlboro, Stratton, Whitingham, and Wilmington together, in accordance with the recently passed statute. Since then, the CUD has expanded to include 20 towns and is exploring still further expansion. 

It currently covers 24,400 households, 7,300 of which are completely unserved by wired broadband at speeds of at least 25/3 Megabits per second (Mbps). The towns of Halifax, Wardsboro, Readsboro, Whitingham, and Marlboro are in particular need of service, with at least 80% of occupied premises unserved by basic broadband, as identified in the RFP. Predictably, the document also shows, 50% to 67% of households in those towns responded in a February 2020 survey that they would “definitely” subscribe to a new fiber service, with another 25% saying they would “probably” subscribe.

Significant Progress Made Already

DVFiber has gained significant momentum in its short existence. It was awarded a $100,000 CARES Act grant in October to conduct pole studies in Halifax, Stamford, and Whitingham. Two grants totaling $30,000 from the Vermont Community Foundation supported initial start-up costs.

A grant of $8,000 from the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation (BDCC) provided funds for additional organizational development. An October 2020 Fiber Business Plan commissioned by the Windham Regional Commission (WRC) indicated “a clear path” for DVFiber to “launch and oversee” the construction and operation of an FTTP network.

Statewide efforts also will be boosted by another recent grant. In January of 2021, the Vermont Department of Public Service won a one-year, $1 million award from the Northern Borders Regional Commission (NBRC) in support of CUD efforts across the state. The grant joins $1.5 million already held in support of broadband expansion efforts and is split between $750,000 for funding infrastructure and $250,000 for hiring a project developer to help the CUDs navigate public and private funding avenues.

“The one key thing to know about DVFiber,” Manwaring added, “is that, where there was none before, we finally have a path to secure high-speed broadband for all unserved and underserved folks in our communities.”