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In Vermont, more broadband is a big deal. Meet the line workers bringing Wi-Fi to East Calais

Young men near a truck and ATVs preparing tools and equipment for work day
Erica Heilman
Vermont Public
The team gets ready to hang cable in East Calais.

Broadband is coming to small Vermont towns everywhere, slowly but surely. Reporter Erica Heilman ran into some telecommunication line workers in her town of Calais, and stopped to talk with them.

Note: This story was produced for the ear. We recommend listening to the audio, but have provided a transcript below.

This morning I was driving on the back roads in East Calais. This is what that sounded like:

Sound of potholes...

Anyway, I was driving on the back roads and I ran into the linemen bringing fiber internet cable to Calais, and they finally made it to East Calais, and seeing them was like seeing the ice cream truck.

I asked if they would talk with me, which they really didn't want to, because they make money by every foot of cable they put up, but they gave me a couple minutes anyway. Ashton Bajeun, Wyatt Solls and Macaulay Bernier have been hanging cable in hard-to-get-to places all winter and spring. Mountains and bogs and deep woods.

The first electricity came to these parts of Calais back in 1939. And I have to believe those linemen look about like these young men, young and hard-working and in the prime of their lives.

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Here's foreman Ashton Bajeun.

Erica: "What are you doing?"

Ashton: "We're putting up by strand and fiber for communication systems."

Erica: "In other words, you're bringing Wi-Fi to our, to our neighborhood."

Ashton: "Yep. Bringing Wi-Fi."

Erica: "You know, it's like in the olden times before electricity, it's a big deal. Does this feel like a big deal?"

Ashton: "Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. There's like no service anywhere in Vermont, you know? So you put this stuff up, and you can get connected with everybody, you know? So definitely it’s nice."

"Well, it's exciting for everybody out in places like this. But we've been doing this for — you know what I mean? — people have been putting this fiber up for a long time. So for us, it's we're used to it. We're like, 'Oh, people are still excited about it.'"
Ashton Bajeun, lineman hanging cable in East Calais

Erica: "What's the equipment here?"

Ashton: "Just ATVs we use to pull the strand and fiber with. It's an ATV with tracks for the snow. Yeah."

Erica: "So you picked mud season to do this job."

Ashton: "Well, we've been doing it all winter. All winter. That's why we got the tracks on right now. They’ll be coming off soon. Probably over the weekend."

Erica: "How's it been during in mud season to do this job?"

Ashton: "It's not so bad. Winter was worse. There was a lot of snow. There's a couple few feet out here. Cold. Real cold."

Erica: "Have you worked as a team this whole time?"

Ashton: "All winter. Yeah, basically? Yep. Yeah, they work under me. I'm the foreman. I got him them the fall. They started with me. They're both green to it. They're learning how to do it."

Erica: "What do you talk about?"

Ashton: "Nothing. Working. Going to work. Climbing polls. We get paid by the foot. So you got to put it up. It's not by the hour. Like we're not getting paid right now."

Erica: "OK, OK. All right, quickly, what are the different reactions you're getting? You know, I look at you and it's like Santa Claus is coming to town."

Ashton: "Some people love it. A guy down the road was saying we were like heroes."

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Erica: "Where do you actually have to go with these ATVs?"

Ashton: "Through a lot of properties and stuff, people's backyards, you know, over mountains, woods, stuff like that. So, you know, sometimes you run into somebody's back field and some people don't always like it, you know, some people just don't like you being on their property without talking to them. Sometimes you don't know either, you know, you're coming through the easement, you know, 100 people live out here, you know, you don't know everything about the place."

Erica: "So what about things that you've seen out there? Because you're seeing places that people don't usually get to?"

Ashton: "A lot of cool stuff. It's beautiful in Vermont, a lot of cool things."

Erica: "How many miles have you done so far this year?"

Ashton: "Out here? We're doing, we're doing right around three to four miles a week, just us. So I don't know all winter. I don't know, we probably put up 20 miles out here."

Erica: "So you have to climb up on poles with heavy wire…"

Ashton: "Yeah, we’re down there. We're working down there, which is across a field."

Erica: "You are the face of the next generation. Like imagine when they brought electricity to towns in Vermont… like this is what you're doing."

Ashton: "Well, it's exciting for everybody out in places like this. But we've been doing this for — you know what I mean? — people have been putting this fiber up for a long time. So for us, it's we're used to it. We're like, 'Oh, people are still excited about it.' But putting it up every day, you know, been putting it up every day."

Erica: "I have to say I really didn't think you'd ever get to my house. And you haven't."

Ashton: "No, I haven't quite got there. I will. There's one power issue right before your house right in the woods. Yup."

Ashton yells to the team: "Yeah put some cones out quick!"

Sound of ATVs driving into field…

And that's the sound of the future.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Erica Heilman produces a podcast called Rumble Strip. Her shows have aired on NPR’s Day to Day, Hearing Voices, SOUNDPRINT, KCRW’s UnFictional, BBC Podcast Radio Hour, CBC Podcast Playlist and on public radio affiliates across the country. Rumble Strip airs monthly on Vermont Public. She lives in East Calais, Vermont.
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