In July ECFiber, central Vermont’s fiber optic Internet provider, began construction in Granville and Hancock—two of six towns slated to receive the high-speed service in 2018, according to ECFiber CEO Carol Monroe, who said she expects the two towns to be fully online with the new service within the next six weeks or so. “It’s been a long wait,” said Granville Selectman Jim Dague, “but we’re very excited that (ECFiber is) coming here.”
Granville Selectman Richard Poole, who also serves as the town’s delegate to ECFiber, said he believes bringing such high quality Internet service to Granville and other small towns in the area will help attract people and businesses to the area.
“There are millions of people who are telecommuting now— once people realize they don’t have to live in a city to have access to that sort of speed and reliability [that fiber optic Internet provides] … it will change the opportunities in these towns a lot.”
Monroe noted that one thing that sets ECFiber apart is that the company prioritizes getting service to rural, underserved areas—areas, she said, are typically not considered by many larger Internet providers.
“It’s rare in this country to have fiber optic service down a one-and-a-half-mile dirt road,” noted Monroe. “We want to make sure that everyone has the ability to get great service, so we’re focusing on towns that the state has indicated are unserved or underserved.”
The biggest obstacle to getting service to the towns in EC Fiber’s plan, said Monroe, has been a phase of the preparation for construction known as “pole make-ready work.”
Pole make-ready work, explained Monroe, is when utilities that own the power poles (usually Green Mountain Power or Consolidated Communications) make space on the poles for ECFiber to roll out their cables.
After ECFiber plans its expansions, the company submits applications to utilities, after which the utility works with ECFiber to estimate the costs of the make-ready work.
With the survey completed, added Monroe, ECFiber pays in advance for the make-ready work, and the utility is allowed 120 days to complete it, at which time ECFiber receives licenses to use the poles, allowing the company to begin construction.
But often the utilities do not complete the work within the time allotted, said Monroe.
Pole make-ready work taking longer than anticipated caused an intended May start date for construction in Granville and Hancock to be postponed until mid-July, when ECFiber was fully licensed in the towns.
ECFiber is still waiting to receive licenses in the other four 2018 build towns of Braintree, Brookfield, Rochester, and Stockbridge, said Monroe, but as soon as the last licenses are received, construction can begin.
Working With Utilities
Representatives from both Green Mountain Power and Consolidated Communications have met with her multiple times a month, said Monroe, to discuss progress in the make-ready work.
According to Green Mountain Power Communications Director Kristin Kelly, postponing make-ready work is sometimes necessary so that the company can prioritize other projects, such as repairing damage from storms.
“[Green Mountain Power’s] first priority is always our mission,” said Kelly, “which is safety and reliability for all of our customers. But we’re focused on transparency, so we communicate frequently with ECFiber about where we’re at with all of our projects.”
Kelly added that in recent years, Green Mountain Power has seen an increased number of requests for make-ready work from third-party users, such as ECFiber, giving the company a higher workload than previously anticipated.
Monroe noted that although delays to make-ready work have not been as significant this year as in previous years, the utilities are “still not as on time as I’d like.”
Monroe said that if the utilities don’t come through with the make-ready work, ECFiber holds the option to involve the Public Utility Commission.
“Of course we’d rather not do that,” said Monroe, “We’d rather work things out with people. But it is an avenue that’s open to us.”
Once the licenses are received and construction begins, said Monroe, the work tends to run on schedule, aside from the occasional hiccup due to extreme weather events or occasionally needing to run cables underground unexpectedly.
In anticipation of pole make-ready work delays, said Monroe, ECFiber is already planning 2019 build areas, to begin the application process this fall.
“We’re going to build in four new towns next year,” said Monroe, “Sharon, Royalton, Tunbridge, and Vershire.”
Additionally, ECFiber will build 80 miles in rural areas that don’t have high-speed Internet options available.
“When you look at Randolph (for example) the center of town has Comcast … so they have a solution [to Internet access]. It may not be a solution that they want, but they do have a solution. But … some areas in that town don’t have a solution. So we want to build those first,” Monroe explained.
Which additional 80 miles get built will be determined as plans for ECFiber’s member towns get finalized, said Monroe. If people are interested in receiving service from ECFiber, they can sign up at www.ecfiber.net, which will help the company determine where the areas of highest interest are, noted Monroe.
-- ZOË NEWMARCO