With 47% of Vermonters having Internet connection speeds of under 678 kbps (the minimum speed that constitutes "broadband" according to the FCC), Vermont has earned the nickname of the Last Mile State. But it is precisely because of this reputation that Matt Dunne thinks Vermont can be transformed into a leader in connectivity, broadband competition, and innovation.
Dunne, a former state senator and current candidate for Vermont governor, is also Head of Community Affairs for Google and argued in a recent talk at The Law Lab at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society that Vermont is uniquely positioned to be a place of experimentation in high speed internet competition and the innovation that could come with it.
Citing Vermont's mountainous and heavily forested geography, Dunne explained the difficulty Vermont has historically faced in deploying connectivity over the airwaves. As a result, most broadband and cell phone service providers have largely ignored the state. The lack of connectivity has hurt Vermont's ability to incubate start-up entrepreneurs and has prevented established Vermont companies from attracting talent. In its education sector, the state is experiencing a decline in its student population, making high-speed internet connection critical for sharing teachers across the state's widely spread out community-based school system. Connectivity also brings the promise of an improved overall cost efficiency to the state at a time when it is suffering from its largest deficit in history. "Connectivity is no longer only about getting ahead, it is about keeping up as well," Dunne said.
However, there are also several unique advantages Vermont has that would make the state particularly amenable to experimenting with broadband deployment. "The notion of community benefit and working in service of it is engrained in Vermont and that notion transfers into an expectation of private entities to do the same." In addition, Dunne points to Vermont's Triple A bond rating which would allow the state the kind of capacity and autonomy to experiment in a way other states cannot. He argued that Vermont's population of approximately 620,000 people would make for a compelling but still controlled demonstration project for those excited about the possibility of broadband competition to show you can deliver broad band at a much lower cost.
As part of his campaign platform, Dunne is proposing that the state make a long-term financial investment with guarantees from its Triple A bond rating to entice the private sector to come forward through either a municipal, non-profit, or for-profit mechanism to deploy broadband connectivity throughout Vermont while allowing for access to the broadband infrastructure at a reasonable and appropriate cost. "If you look at broadband in the broadest concept, agnostic to device, then you have opportunities to use a backbone and delivery system to not only deliver speed of information, VoIP, and other kinds of services to the home but also to be able with low aesthetic and environmental impact to deploy it anywhere along the roads where you have that pipe."
Dunne is also exploring cost saving ideas in broadband deployment such as the potential use of low-frequency spectrum deployment. Low-frequency spectrum is particularly of interest to Dunne because Vermont uses the smallest amount of the old television spectrum of any state. Because of the geographic difficulty of transmitting across the state, Vermont did not build many television towers. As a result, it now has an excess of spectrum available, which Dunne says will mean less push-back from potential critics about using the spectrum for experimentation in broadband. Less push-back plus the resources and community sense to understand the importance of making connectivity open, accessible, and competitive for the long-term will be key to Vermont's ability to go from next to nothing in connectivity to leapfrogging into next generation technology.
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