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Sims: Broadband And The NEK

Connectivity is still a challenge in the Northeast Kingdom, and other rural parts of Vermont.

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time in the basement bathroom of a Greensboro church - for the fast internet. And I’m thankful for Spark, the new co-working space close to my house, where I know I can participate in video conferences.A tech company co-founder I know takes turns with his wife uploading data files from their home office. A local librarian pays two service providers for backup when one inevitably goes out. A doctor rents a better-connected second office for telemedicine. The internet in most of the Northeast Kingdom, and other rural parts of Vermont, simply does not support modern life.

People patch it together. But we know it’s a drag on our economy and it drives young people away. And if these problems weren’t big enough, there are more on the horizon.

Soon, fast, reliable internet will be needed for basic services, safety and health. Renewing a driver’s license is much easier online. My new hot water heater lets me monitor its performance and change settings over Wifi. Doctors’ offices encourage making appointments and requesting refills over the Web.

All Vermonters deserve access to this essential resource. And it’s clear by now that large communications companies won’t solve this for us. There’s not enough money to be made.

The big leaps in service lately have come from communities banding together or partnering with small providers. Craftsbury, where I live, just built its own 13-mile fiber network using federal grants. The percentage of buildings in town with access to high speed internet went from 8% to almost half.

The Vermont House overwhelmingly approved a bill in March to provide more funding for community-owned and public/private partnerships like this one. But, with adjournment looming, it appears stuck in the Senate Finance committee. I hope Senate leaders understand how important this issue is to their rural constituents.

We can’t afford to wait another year – and I’d really like to get out of the bathroom.

Katherine Sims is the Director of the Northeast Kingdom Collaborative, bringing together partners to advance economic development in communities. She was also the founder and Executive Director of Green Mountain Farm-to-School, and worked as a consultant to nonprofits on fundraising plans, leadership development, and succession planning. She lives in Craftsbury with her husband and son.
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