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Businesses partnering with the state of Vermont to address rural broadband gap

MONTPELIER — On Thursday Gov. Phil Scott and the Department of Public Service announced a collaboration with several partners that will increase internet access by means of public Wi-Fi hotspots for dozens of rural towns in Vermont. Among the towns targeted are the Addison County towns of Waltham and Ferrisburgh. Deployment is already underway.
“Broadband remains a critical resource for Vermonters in rural areas to stay connected and work and learn remotely during our Stay Home, Stay Safe period,” Scott said in a statement. “We are grateful to our partners at Microsoft, RTO Wireless and Up And Running I.T. for their assistance in providing this important service.”
“Microsoft approached RTO Wireless about teaming up on deploying free public Wi-Fi at venues located in rural communities that lack sufficient broadband coverage,” said RTO’s CEO Steve Hubbard. “Microsoft offered to fund the purchase and installation of the hotspot devices.”
RTO said their first call was to the team at the Department of Public Service. Justin McCoart’s Bethel-based company, Up And Running I.T., will assist with the local installations. Public host institutions need to have existing broadband service and agree to host the equipment. RTO Wireless, on behalf of Microsoft, contracted with Up And Running I.T. to procure and install the Cisco Meraki networking equipment.
“Government and business are trying to help, working together, to build in high traffic and in rural areas,” said McCoart. He further stressed how committed the tech sector is to helping keep people connected. “Everyone is working 12 to 16 hours a day to keep everyone connected to each other.”
At the outset of the COVID-19 emergency, the Department published a public Wi-Fi hotspot map on its website to assist Vermonters with internet access for information, remote work and learning.
The map identifies places where people can access free public Wi-Fi options from a car to maintain appropriate social distancing. A review of that data found that 38 small towns and gores across the state had no identified suitably socially distant and publicly available Wi-Fi. The Department reached out to public schools, libraries and town halls about partnering to have public Wi-Fi installed for their communities. Over 50 communities have reached out to the Department thus far.
Public Wi-Fi spots available through this initiative are being offered at:
Town of Wheelock, Isle La Motte Elementary, Ferrisburgh Central School, Folsom Ed and Community Center, Concord School, Lyndon Town School, Danby Town Offices, Belvidere Central School, Morgan Country Store (town clerk, post office etc.), Charleston Elementary School, Coventry Elementary School and Jay Westfield Joint Elementary School.
And also Waltham Town Offices, Walden School, Waterford School, Barre City – City Hall/Merchants Way Extension, Office of Unified Towns and Gore, Norton Town Office, Ira Town Offices, East Haven Community Building, North Hero Town Office and School, Craftsbury Common, Highgate Town Office Complex, Wardsboro Town Hall & Library, Readsboro Town Office and School and Sandgate Town Hall.
And also Greensboro Offices, Sunderland Town Office Building, Train Station Depot, North Bennington, Athens Town Office and Albany Methodist Church.
Microsoft’s Shelley McKinley pointed out that the broadband gap already disproportionately affects Americans who reside in rural areas, like Vermont.
“COVID-19 has only exacerbated this problem, preventing many people in rural communities from accessing online learning, telework, telemedicine and other necessary parts of life during this crisis,” said McKinley, Microsoft vice president general manager of technology and corporate responsibility. “Microsoft Airband is working with companies and governments like those in Vermont to bridge the broadband gap amid the crisis and help ensure that rural communities aren’t left behind.”
Launched in 2017, the Microsoft Airband Initiative is partnering with internet service providers and others to extend broadband access to three million people who reside in unserved rural areas.
 

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