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These 23 Vermont towns all finally have high-speed internet. Here's how ECFiber pulled it off

A picture of a body of water surrounded by green trees with a brown bridge.
Vermont Public
White River Junction is a village in the town of Hartford, in the Upper Valley. It is the junction of the White River and the Connecticut River, the junction of rail lines, and the junction of interstates I-89 and I-91. It’s also right on the border with New Hampshire – so, junction of two states. It's a place that's gone through a lot of changes.

The Upper Valley Community band added to the exuberant atmosphere in White River Junction on Tuesday as town leaders gathered to celebrate plugging the “golden patch cord” into a telecommunications hub that will bring high-speed internet service to 23 towns in East Central Vermont.

ECFiber’s fiber-optic network has been in the making for 15 years. Tuesday's event marked the final stage, lighting the final hub in the final town from the original plan. Over nearly two decades there was a lot of flux and discouragement, according to the speakers at the event — one of them being U.S. Senator Peter Welch.

“If we in rural Vermont were going to depend on the big telecommunication companies to wire our homes and get us internet, we’d be waiting until our grandchildren had grandchildren,” said Welch, a Norwich resident and ECFiber customer himself. “It wasn’t going to happen.”

The company’s story is a long one. There were 500 initial investors that bolstered expectations with $7.5 million at the ready, with a plan to raise more money, until the 2008 recession hit. After multiple failed attempts at receiving funding at the state and federal levels, ECFiber turned to the very purpose behind its mission: the rural communities.

More from Vermont Public: Vermont Legislature Eyes ECFiber As Model For Community-Based Broadband Build-out

Loredo Sola of Pomfret was the first chair of the ECFiber governing board. He described the beginnings of the process of selling municipal bonds to raise financing.

“We’re a community, we’re resilient," Sola said. "We’re going to do this ourselves, we will do friends and family financing, we will sell promissory notes, and we will raise enough money to get the ball rolling to get it kicked off.”

Slowly but surely with door-to-door advertising, investors started joining — many of them with their own interests at heart because they wanted better internet. Jerry Ward of Randolph described the next step.

We’re a community, we’re resilient. We’re going to do this ourselves.
Loredo Sola

“We started building these routes that didn’t make much sense from a technological network perspective," Ward said, "all these spurs all over the place. But as long as we could connect them like we did with Barnard initially,” the first town to join the grid, “to a hub in Royalton, we start building a little network and started getting little bits of revenue … and by jeezum, it sounded feeble at first, but it started, and we realized that it was successful.”

Just this year ECFiber entered into an operating agreement with GWI, a Maine telecommunications operator. Presently, ECFiber has 8,000 customers, with potentially thousands more from eight other Upper Valley towns that have recently voted to join.

The network recently applied for and received $2.8 million in “pre-construction” grants from the Vermont Community Broadband Fund in order to extend the network to more towns. They hope to receive more funding later this summer.

This state funding is coming in along with federal funding as well. Welch recently introduced a bipartisan bill to expand rural internet access, the ReConnecting Rural America Act. Additionally, Vermont just received $229 million from President Biden under the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program.

“We are now on the threshold of having high-speed internet that goes to every home, barn and business in the state,” Welch said.

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

Julia Tanier was a News Intern during summer 2023.
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