The state has $700,000 in funds available to groups wanting to bring high speed internet service to rural Vermont.

Clay Purvis, director of the Telecommunications and Connectivity Division of the Department of Public Service, said Wednesday the “Broadband Innovation Grant” funds are for the creation of feasibility studies and business plans to bring broadband internet to communities.

Governor Phil Scott’s office announced Wednesday that applications for the first round of funding are now open. The $700,000 comes from Act 79, passed by the Legislature in 2019. Each grant is for $60,000.

Purvis said the deadline for the first round of applications is Oct. 25, giving entities like towns enough time to apply.

Purvis said the aim behind this program is to spur the creation of more groups like the East Central Vermont Telecommunications District (ECFiber), which was able to get started on its own.

Christopher Recchia, managing director of ValleyNet, the operating company for ECFiber, said Wednesday he’s happy to help anyone interested in such an undertaking.

He said ECFiber started 10 years ago, and has been offering internet service to its 23 member towns — Pittsfield and Montpelier among them — for the past three years.

Recchia said there are several issues ECFiber could help burgeoning cooperative communications union districts manage, such as running new lines along existing utility poles, how many subscribers are needed per mile, and how to use subscriber fees to pay for everything.

“Expanding reliable broadband access to Vermont’s rural communities is so important in our work to increase economic and educational opportunities and enhance public safety for all Vermonters,” said Scott in a release. “I look forward to the creative thinking and solutions that will result from this grant program.”

Those eligible for the grant include non-profits, for-profits, cooperatives, communications union districts, and governments. Applicants must intend to provide internet speeds of at least 25 mbps download, and three mbps upload, in places that have poor or no internet service.

“The Department of Public Service looks forward to seeing new ideas generated through this program, and we hope that these grants will jumpstart new broadband projects throughout the state,” said Public Service Commissioner, June Tierney, in a release.

keith.whitcomb

@rutlandherald.com

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