Poll shows more people dissatisfied with broadband service, even though more have it
Vermont had high-speed broadband problems before the pandemic.
But over the past two years, that issue has become even more prevalent, as so much of our lives has moved online.
According to the latest VPR-Vermont PBS poll, more people say lack of broadband is a problem today, compared to the poll we did in 2019.
And that increase has occurred even as more Vermonters have been able to get good service to their home.
Major Munson lives in the town of Georgia, in Franklin County, and his internet service is not good.
“It’s a problem, ‘cause there’s only one server that services my area,” Munson said. “And the internet speed is super, super slow.”
Munson was one of the Vermonters who took part in the latest poll, and he says he and his family kind of got used to the inadequate service, as frustrating as it was.
But over the past two years, the slow broadband speeds really caught up with them.
Since his partner’s office closed because of COVID, she’s had to go find faster service over in neighboring Milton at a Dunkin' or McDonald's.
And while his kids’ school streamed the sporting events that parents were shut out of, Munson has only been able to catch spotty glimpses of his sons' hockey and football games.
“With my children's sporting events, fans —we’re not allowed to go,” he said. “And so they gave us an app to download so we can stream it on our TV. But because my internet service is so slow, I missed majority of every single game over the last two years that I was allowed to watch online.”
When VPR-Vermont PBS did a poll in 2019, about 20% of those who responded said access to high-speed internet was a problem.
When we asked that same question in our most recent poll, the number jumped to almost 30%, even though more people in the state have service.
“I do think that the value of internet service increased during the pandemic,” said Clay Purvis, telecommunications director with the Vermont Public Service Department. “I think people were probably using the Internet in ways that they weren’t before the pandemic. And realized that they’re going to need more than, you know, basic DSL to do a lot of the things that they were required to do, because of their employer, because of their children’s education, educational needs.”
According to the Department of Public Service, the number of Vermonters with access to high-speed service is almost 70% higher than it was when VPR-Vermont PBS did its earlier poll.
But back then, only 6 % of respondents said it was a major problem not to have service. That number more than doubled in the recent poll.
“I do think that the value of internet service increased during the pandemic."
Purvis says before COVID, people were using their internet service at home to check email or stream a movie, and over the past two years, adequate broadband service has become more of a necessity.
“And it’s probably going to remain that way,” Purvis said. “Because I think we all realize that it’s not that much fun to be on Zoom all day, but it sure is convenient.”
People are dissatisfied with their high-speed internet service across the state, according to the recent poll, with the largest group living in northern Vermont.
The state is hoping to finally connect those addresses to high-speed internet service in the coming years by using an unprecedented windfall of federal money.
“Going into the 2022 construction season, we’re going to have our plans laid out in how to get every address connected in Vermont,” said Vermont Community Broadband Board executive director Christine Hallquist.
Hallquist told a House committee recently that even though Vermont has about $350 million dollars in federal support for broadband, there’s still a gap in funding to get every home and business connected in the next five years.
About 30% of the state lacks adequate broadband service. The biggest need is in the Northeast Kingdom.
But help is on the way.
About 200 towns across Vermont have signed on with a nearby communications union district, or CUD.
The CUDs are nonprofits, through which small towns that have been ignored by for-profit companies band together to leverage funding, hire staff, and help build a broadband infrastructure.
Will Anderson works with an association that represents all of the CUDs around the state.
Anderson says they’ll be looking for more state funding, because if the CUDs have to borrow money to build networks, it will make it harder for low-income households to access the service.
“The key to us for affordable service is being able to provide universal service as cheaply as possible, via grants,” Anderson said. “Where we take on debts, that’s where we have to charge a higher amount for rates to customers, and that’s he last thing that we want to do."
Anderson said a workforce shortage is another big challenge that could slow down the buildout.
But he said most of the CUDs in the state will be able to start construction this year.
From Jan. 3 to Jan. 9, the VPR-Vermont PBS 2022 Poll asked hundreds of Vermonters about their opinions on climate change, broadband, dairy and more. Explore part two of results here. The first part of the results were released in January.