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Vermont proposes providing broadband internet service to all state residents (burlingtonfreepress.com)
288 points by PretzelFisch 16 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 130 comments



Hi there, I'm a part of this effort and we did learn from the Burlington Telecom fiasco. Legislation was passed in 2014 that provided for the forming of Communications Union Districts which can build municipally controlled broadband infrastructure, but can't access the municipal bond market, meaning taxpayers are never at risk. The downside of this is we have to rely on federal funding in most cases since private capital wants to make sure they have the option to take it out on the taxpayer if the debt load becomes unserviceable. Right now this is not an issue at all for us with hundreds of millions of stimulus money specifically for broadband floating around, the challenge is beating Comcast et al to the money bin. Comcast in particular is pure evil in Vermont, they signed a contract to build out a paltry 550 miles of new cable to unserved addresses over 10 years (55 miles a year) and then sued the state afterwards for infringing on their 1st amendment rights.

https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2017/08/comcast-sues-ver...

I'm with one of the largest CUDs in VT, NEK Community Broadband, which represents 27 towns in the northeast of the state. We're talking to our state government as we speak to make sure incumbent providers are held accountable if they are provided with federal money, and preferably, build our own infrastructure. The timeline for this has shrunk from 3-5 years, to 8 MONTHS by restrictions imposed on spending CARES act and other federal dollars by Jan 1. It's an exciting time!


How do these munibroadband efforts dovetail with existing local fiber companies? I get access through Waitsfield & Champlain Valley Telecom and after granted a long delay on speeds they've been pretty aggressive about fiber rollouts in the last year or two. I'm down by Monkton and have 1G fiber. It's $105 a month, which is certainly more than BTV but this isn't a dense area at all either, and even when still on DSL they've always been really pleasant to deal with. I know there have been other fiber deployments in various places one might not expect at first glance in VT too, and the mountainous terrain is both an impediment to physical rollout but also offers some opportunities for WISPs.

Definitely excited to see more progress on this at last, and Comcast is certainly awful. I hope though that'll it'll benefit from and get boosted by what is here too.


Very much so. We're looking at EC Fiber as a model of what a successful CUD looks like, and also talking to local electric distribution utilities who have unused fiber assets that we can license from them for residential use. Wireless we are very wary of here, as it is both weather and terrain dependent and provides poor speeds (usually around 14-20m) and one of the larger wireless internet providers, VTel, squandered a USDA rural broadband grant a few years ago and effectively locked the northeast region of the state out of further funding from that program.


Fair enough and thanks for the reply! I certainly didn't mean to suggests that WISPs should get any federal funding directly per se, more that one of the benefits of more fiber deployment would be more options for private higher speed "WISPs" (which could just be a techie on a hill who can put up a few cheap 400 Mbps class PtPs for some neighbors) so there might be coordination opportunities.

Per your comment elsewhere in the thread, I'd definitely like to see 100% of any NEW federal money in particular go to fiber. Even if it takes a while, every bit of incremental build out there is permanent progress, not wasted on dead end ancient copper.

Best of luck to you! I joined a vt governor's campaign back in 2010 in part because they were the only one to really focus on this issue. It's something I think could help the state significantly.


Is there any provision for homeless residents?


Thankfully Vermont does not have as a significant homelessness issue like the Bay (can attest, born and raised in Vermont, currently in the Bay). It's less of an issue relative to getting widespread internet.


Parts of Vermont do have a sizable, if seasonal, homelessness problem. Brattleboro does, at any rate. Perhaps being in the Vermont banana belt does this.


Burlington does, seasonally.

However, Vermont gets very cold. Unless you want to hide out in someone's basement all winter to survive it's not really feasible to be homeless all year round.


The homelessness problem is certainly seasonal. I guess the migratory nature of it lends itself to being harder to classify than the rampant tent cities out in the Bay.


This article doesn't exactly mirror your sentiment.

https://vtdigger.org/2019/11/29/despite-dropping-homeless-po...

I'd argue that people need shelter more than internet. Can't use internet if you're dead and all.


I'm not saying it's not a parallel problem?


I live in Vermont and I'm tentatively excited about this. Unfortunately, our municipal internet provider in Burlington, VT was financially a disaster [1].

The tax payers put up a bunch of money. Burlington Telecom was mismanaged into defaulting on its debts causing the city's bond rating to fall to nearly junk bond status. It was sold at a loss to a private company. [2]

Very disappointing considering how awesome Burlington Telecom is. I currently pay $35 for 1G symmetrical in my apartment building.

Hopefully if this statewide project goes through, they don't repeat those mistakes.

[1] https://vermontbiz.com/news/2019/march/13/citibank-fully-rel... (Citibank fully releases Burlington from $33.5 million BT lawsuit)

[2] https://www.wcax.com/content/news/The-Burlington-Telecom-sag... (Burlington Telecom timeline: How did we get here?)


The same could be said about Frontier [1] and Windstream [2]. I like that Vermont keeps trying, my internet should be like my water, sewer, and similar local services: a utility. The unemployed can be trained to run fiber, and the Fed is going to keep soaking up muni bonds [3], not much to lose by trying again. Capital is cheap, treat failure as just as cheap.

It can be done [4] [5]. But you have to care. You have to build public systems and goods that are loved, because to love them is to want to provide ongoing care for them, and to invest yourself in them (financially and otherwise).

[1] https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2020/04/frontiers-bankruptcy-r... (EFF: Frontier’s Bankruptcy Reveals Why Big ISPs Choose to Deny Fiber to So Much of America)

[2] https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2019/02/winds... (Windstream, ISP with 1 million customers, files for bankruptcy)

[3] https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/27/the-fed-says-it-is-expanding... (CNBC: The Fed says it is expanding its municipal bond buying program)

[4] https://muninetworks.org/communitymap (US Muni Fiber Map)

[5] https://b4rn.org.uk/ (England: Broadband for the Rural North)


> I like that Vermont keeps trying, my internet should be like my water, sewer, and similar local services: a utility.

It is practically impossible to run multiple competing water and sewer pipes or other utilies. But there is no such problem with fiber. Or there could be public passive fiber operated by multiple competing ISPs.

Proper role of government is to actively encourage competition, not destroy market by subsidised public service. But it seems that US government instead actively discourage competition, which leads to bad commercial services, which leads to public preference for monopolistic government service, with all its problems well known from Europe past.


You're entitled to your opinion of course, but it has repeatedly been shown that ISPs will not make the necessary investments, and instead will over leverage with debt while milking the customer base for the most dollars they can while providing the lowest quality of service tolerable.

Private enterprise had their chance, decades even. Fool us once.


I'm not sure how you can come to that conclusion...

Telecommunications investment per capita is higher in the US than all other OECD countries, and by a lot[1]. The gap in telecom investment between the US and the EU is similar[2].

The robust and enduring gap in American telecommunication investment really paid off as COVID began to take over the world. American internet was the most well positioned to withstand the lockdown-induced surge in internet load. Meanwhile, internet speeds in Italy and many other European nations were slowed down to less than half what’s standard in the US, partially due to older infrastructure[3]. In Europe, Netflix actually reduced its traffic there by 25 percent and YouTube promised to limit quality in order to to free up bandwidth for other services. None of this was necessary in the US.

The fixed broadband speed in the US is higher than that of Portugal, Poland, Germany, Belgium, South Korea (!!), Austria, and Italy [4].

[1] https://pbs.twimg.com/media/EVHQddtUcAElcjq?format=jpg&name=...

[2] https://www.orange.com/fr/content/download/47277/1372866/ver...

[3] https://www.vox.com/recode/2020/3/25/21188391/internet-surge...

[4] https://www.speedtest.net/global-index#fixed


That's lovely. Now please explain to so many of my friends and family why their only broadband option with remotely decent pricing (if they have an alternative) is Xfinity, and why many of them had to pay hundreds to get a line run to their house to use that service.

The market will not solve access issues, regional monopolies by ISPs, or similar matters without intense regulation. Even then they will use tax subsidies to fight those regulations tooth and nail.

I'm running 100/10 on a dsl type line right now because it's my only other option than Xfinity and it is literally as fast as I can get outside of Xfinity as they own the infrastructure here for anything better. At least I don't have a data cap and can skate by at these speeds, though my upload hurts quite often.


I'm sorry to hear about your friends' experiences.

While anecdotes are important, the data just doesn't corroborate the notion that American broadband internet is worse, on average, than that of its peer countries. You're right that the experience of some individuals does not match up to the aggregate statistics, but you can't draw broad conclusions from those data points.

The aggregate data captures the experiences of your friends, just like the aggregate data for other nations captures adverse experiences of their citizens. And what the data does say is 1) investment in broadband infrastructure is higher in the US (per capita) than most other peer nations, and 2) average broadband speed in the US is higher than most other peer nations. That's not really a matter of opinion, it's strictly an observation.


I looked at [4]—unless I’m being silly, the table seems to have the US far behind (from your list) S. Korea, Belgium, Austria, and several other European states.


You are looking at the Mobile list.

Look at the right side table — we are talking about fixed broadband infrastructure (fiber), not Mobile.


Ah yes, quite right. I thought the colours suggested that I was in fact already on the fixed broadband list.


Symmetric gigabit is under $80/mo from AT&T where I live. That's not only good new infrastructure but also significantly cheaper than the old cable stuff. Maybe were the space less regulated ISPs would make a greater investment, especially were it easier to start one's own. If the WISP idea ever gets really good that would solve most of the situation.


I live in a rural area and also pay $80/mo for internet. This gets me a 160 KB/s unmetered connection, which has been the best available for about a decade, unless I want to spend a lot of money or suffer cripling bandwidth caps. Millions of dollars have been awarded each year during this time to deploy rural broadband in the state. Areas serviced by small, local ISPs have fiber to the door, but unfortunately, I'm serviced by a big, nationwide ISP thata just sucks up all that money and never delivers. I can hardly wait for Starlink or one of the proposed competing satellite constellations to come online.


Also: during the 90's, Wired published a fiber map, and at that time, there were seven different fiber networks in place within a quarter mile from my house. For over a decade ISDN has been a little over a thousand feet away, but the provider won't connect without charging several thousands of dollars to run line and install a repeater, despite the tens of millions of dollars the state and feds have given them to roll out rural broadband.


> Maybe were the space less regulated ISPs would make a greater investment, especially were it easier to start one's own.

I’m genuinely curious: what regulations are hampering investment? Cause it’s not net neutrality (ISPs have said to their investors that it doesn’t)

Seriously, the governments have taken almost a hands off approach to the internet, and it’s now evident that it’s not working.


The government does not take a "hands off approach to the Internet." It might seem that way, because the federal government does that. But when you're talking about building physical things in specific places, that's largely the domain of cities and states, and accordingly most of the relevant regulation is at the state and local level.

State-and-local permitting is one huge morass. When I had fiber installed to my house, Comcast had to get permits to hang fiber on a utility poll. Then there were different permits for diverting traffic temporarily while hanging the fiber. Then there were other permits for trenching. The whole process took months. And there is a skilled worker there that has to shepard the process through the bureaucracy.

Other regulations prevent offering television service (a key revenue source) without commitments to build a certain footprint. That means you can't start an ISP with a "minimal viable product" and grow from there. You have to be willing to commit huge amounts of money up front before you see a cent of revenue.

It's very illustrative to look at the deals Google Fiber struck with municipalities, because that shows you where are the real pressure points. Two features appeared in almost every accepted proposal for a Fiber city: (1) one-shot, fast-track permitting; and (2) no build-out requirements.


The most common issue is that municipal governments treat service providers as a revenue source. They charge high fees per utility pole, foot of trench, or resident serviced. These fees are then passed on to the user, who thinks the provider is responsible for the high costs.


>Symmetric gigabit is under $80/mo from AT&T where I live.

That's nice. It's apparent that you live in or near a large metropolotian area. But we're talking about places like Vermont, Upstate NY, and rural Ohio that currently have DSL, or 3G, as their only option.

>That's not only good new infrastructure but also significantly cheaper than the old cable stuff.

Not sure where you get your figures from, but fiber optic is more expensive per foot than copper. In fact, the FTTH installs use some of the most expensive fiber to limit potential issues. On top of that, rural areas are especially difficult because the population density just might mean miles between homes. So, this isn't as much about regulation as it is for-profit companies not willing to take a loss to serve the few.


> Symmetric gigabit is under $80/mo from AT&T where I live.

One datapoint without even stating where you are is meaningless. In general, urban and well off suburban areas have enough resources and density for several competing providers that will actually maintain infrastructure. Meanwhile "competition" in rural areas consists of aging coax versus aging copper. We've had over a decade of private companies promising to build out modern infrastructure if given public money, with few results. Only when rural areas build out municipal fiber do they get reliable gigabit with no customer service hassle.


> Symmetric gigabit is under $80/mo from AT&T where I live

They advertise a similar deal in my city. It isn't actually available anywhere except for a tiny patch of rich-people-land of course.


I have comcast, signed up for a $70 dollar 80/10 package, now it's 150/10 and 120/mo. I have my own router and basic cable. It would cost more to drop basic cable. I can't even downgrade to save money. Comcast has no competition above 100mbps so they can get away with charging 150 for a 1gbps asym connection that has a 1tb cap. Insane. Just slow me to 3g speeds during surges. The actual cost of a bit traveling through and out their network is infinitely close to 0.


Burlington Telecom provided excellent service as a public utility. Symmetric gigabit for $70 and 150 Mbps for $55.


$80 is ridiculously expensive


In my area it's $88/month for 150Mbps down/10Mbps up.

I have been considering downgrading as one third the speed is around half the price I think. :/


>Proper role of government is to actively encourage competition, not destroy market by subsidised public service.

Just highlighting this because while it functions as an unquestioned prior for a lot of us in the tech community, I think it conflates a means with an end. Competition is generally preferable because it builds in the enforcement of feedback between the preferences of consumers and capacities of producers of a good. Where that feedback is tight, it promotes the welfare of both. Common welfare is the end, competition is the means.


> But there is no such problem with fiber.

Have you ever lived in a neighborhood with ongoing FTTH, or even FTTC, installation? I assure you that there is certainly a problem with having that done multiple times. That's just the making-lives-shitty part and doesn't even get to capital costs, which ISPs just straight-up won't spend; go look at the ongoing embarrassment of "hey Verizon, when's FiOS coming to X?". (The answer, dear reader, is "never".)

Public fiber is better, but there should be, as with most necessary-for-modern-life services, a public option that puts a ceiling on what a private company can charge for service. If they can extract efficiencies to be cheaper, sure, great.


> Have you ever lived in a neighborhood with ongoing FTTH, or even FTTC, installation? I assure you that there is certainly a problem with having that done multiple times. That's just the making-lives-shitty part

I was around when AT&T ran the fiber in my old neighborhood. One day, they put pulleys on the poles. Another day, they pulled the fiber over the pulleys. The worst part was waiting for service to become available even though the neighborhood equipment was installed.

The couple of days with lots of trucks in the neighborhood was somewhat disruptive, but not that much more than trash day with a couple garbage trucks driving slowly through the neighborhood.

That still doesn't make it likely to get competition this way. AT&T seemingly only installed fiber because Google had announced they were going to, but Google never actually did, because it was too expensive (capital cost + regulatory requirements + pole access)


That sounds comparatively nice. I was living in a place where everything was trunked underground. R I P.


Underground utilities make maintenance and construction terribly expensive in dollars, time, and hassle.

If you're in an area where conditions are frequently bringing down poles or wires, it can make sense, but a lot of places want underground utilities for cosmetic reasons --- it's a lot of expense to give you a less flexible system.


That's why you use Dig Once. If you dig, you plan and coordinate, and you make efficient use of the time sink you're putting into laying utilities in the ground.

https://www.csg.org/pubs/capitolideas/enews/cs41_1.aspx

https://staticshare.america.gov/uploads/2016/04/6.-GCI-Dig-O...

https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2018/03/dig-once-rule-re...


You could probably have something close to best-of-both worlds if they run underground conduit in the utility right of way.


> Proper role of government is to actively encourage competition, not destroy market by subsidised public service.

I’m of the opinion that if the free market isn’t solving the problem, then the government needs to step in. It’s been repeatedly shown that, even after being given subsidies, ISPs will not spend it on upgrading their networks. Instead, they spend it on raising the salaries of executives and stock buybacks.

Maybe if a competitor were to come in and offer symmetrical gigabit fiber to the home, the ISPs would improve?

Google Fiber was an attempt at that. But even with the weight of Google behind it, starting a new ISP proved too difficult, and they failed.

The barrier to entry is too high and it’s no longer a free market. That’s when the government should step in whether it’s regulation or providing a government run ISP.


Fiber is identical as water pipes and railroads in that once it is laid down it is hugely expensive and unnecessary to run again. If it is then owned and controlled by a private entity then it will be exploited, expanded only for profit, and only maintained when totally broken. If it is owned, operated, and maintained by a municipal that has proper funding and governance it can work very well even if it is slower to deploy new technologies along the same lines as laying down new roads.

Separating anything that can operate like a monopoly is also the role of government, at least in terms of protecting markets and competition, and if the market then demonstrates it will opt for profit over availability then the service needs to be seize and operated or at least very highly regulated by the government just like water, power, and other utilities. There are many examples of this working when expansion or availability was not profitable and therefore not an option for a private company.

Basically, if it operates like a utility in requires high regulation to insure access and failing that requires government management and ownership to operate effectively. We tried giving billions to ISPs and it didn't go to expanding service. The market wants profit, not equal access.

https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/ywkn4b/study-throwing-tax...

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2020/04/frontiers-bankruptcy-r...

https://www.broadbandtechreport.com/fiber/ftth/article/16446...

http://www.qlife.net/sites/default/files/imported/broadbandr...


Providing fast internet access at very affordable prices is destroying market?


> Proper role of government is to actively encourage competition, not destroy market by subsidised public service.

This is neoliberal ideology. It's possible to build good public sector services as shown by the rest of the world.


> The unemployed can be trained to run fiber,

I feel like this is a bit arrogant. This stuff is skilled work. A fiber splicer is a $5,000+ piece of equipment. There are electrical, optical, environmental, and safety considerations all in play. It's not something you can just teach people to do whose other employment options are flipping burgers.

A couple of years ago, I got to watch the whole fiber installation process in action when I had Comcast Gigabit Pro installed in my house. Leaving aside the months it took to get county permitting, it took a team of guys a whole day to run it from the nearest splice point 1,700 feet to my neighborhood. Another half day to run it 200 feet to the pole by my house. Another half day to trench it under my driveway and into my basement. And another half day to install and configure the CPE.

For those people who own homes: Think of how much money it costs to get a team of skilled laborers to spend a couple of days doing anything around your house. I just had a new heat pump condenser and air handler installed. I could buy the parts online for well under $3,000, but with install it came to $6,700. Almost $4,000 for two guys to complete work that took a few hours. I bought marble countertops that cost $2,300 for a slab, and another $2,000 for a day's worth of work to do finishing and installation. Tomorrow, I'm going to spend close to $500 in labor for an hour of work to get a sump pump replaced. Renovating a bathroom can involve $5,000 in materials costs and $10,000 in labor costs for something that takes someone a few days. I suspect my fiber install--probably six man days--cost Comcast close to $10,000.


It it my opinion that to believe in my fellow human is not arrogant. Labor is not fungible ("lump of labor fallacy"), but people are versatile. We should expect that people can be trained into skilled roles, with alternate paths for those who don't have the aptitude. We have trillions of dollars of infrastructure work to be done in this country [1] [2], and we should absolutely expect our citizens to be able to perform that work if provided the means to do so.

Disclaimer: I have run and spliced fiber as a hobbyist for those starting rural ISPs, and also know where you stand on private venture vs community/muni/non-profit broadband. I'm always interested in your constructive criticism (based on your industry experience), as it helps me understand ways to drive down the costs of non-profit broadband initiatives.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_New_Deal

[2] https://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/


When I say it's arrogant I mean we too readily accept that skilled labor doesn't require specialized aptitude for the job. We readily accept that we can't easily train unemployed low-skill workers to be programmers or lawyers, but posit that we can do the same when it comes to installing fiber networks or fitting pipes.

I assume we disagree on this point, but I think it's accurate to say that most people lack the patience, attention to detail, and spatial, mathematical, planning, and problem-solving skills to do a lot of jobs that we assume people "can be trained to do." I don't think that Verizon pays service techs $40/hour + benefits out of generosity. My neighbor works at a local brewery. He sees a lot of guys (some with college degrees) that can't master "move vat A and load it into equipment B, but watch out for X, Y and Z."

I've spent my whole life getting roped into helping people with IT. Most of the time, it's a matter of "read the instructions completely, then click 'Next' until the installation is completed." Some surely could be taught to do it themselves. But I would not be surprised to find many for whom simply "read the instructions completely before doing anything" is a barrier, or who just cannot grasp the process of: "try X, observe results, modify approach, try Y."


I think this is a fair point, but you find this quandary in hiring for most roles: "Does this person give enough of a shit about the job to at least try to get it right?" The economy is still somewhat functioning, so I assume the answer to that is yes, you can find people who can mostly do the job they're in.

This is not to say you don't need education so workers know how to do the job, effective leadership for those folks, as well as quality assurance and other mechanisms to ensure the work being spec'd is done appropriately. I put forth that there is a middle ground between the nihilistic idea that "these people can only flip burgers" and the naive assumption that anyone can be a brain surgeon and policy put in place around such aspirations.

> But I would not be surprised to find many for whom simply "read the instructions completely before doing anything" is a barrier, or who just cannot grasp the process of: "try X, observe results, modify approach, try Y."

I agree an early filter must be used to route these folks into harmless roles or simply benefit programs. Such is the struggle of searching for and retaining talent. People are hard.


>A couple of years ago, I got to watch the whole fiber installation process in action when I had Comcast Gigabit Pro installed in my house. Leaving aside the months it took to get county permitting, it took a team of guys a whole day to run it from the nearest splice point 1,700 feet to my neighborhood. Another half day to run it 200 feet to the pole by my house. Another half day to trench it under my driveway and into my basement. And another half day to install and configure the CPE.

That's an absurd amount of time. There must have been other considerations which made it unusual. When WCVT brought fiber to our area in Vermont it took maybe 5-6 hours to run the 1600 feet or so of our side road, and an extra hour for one house on the way with its own few hundred feet, using their larger scale trencher system + an air blaster if they needed to do a horizontal direct bore which could do 25-50' very quickly. Dig Safe had been by a day or two before just like for any normal ground work anyone would do, so all underground cables/pipes were already painted. The fiber ended up right at our place where we put it through a hole I drilled in the foundation. It wasn't any special ISP team either they had one of the local construction companies take care of the bulk part. Then one tech of theirs drove in, maybe 30 minutes tops to get that spliced and run to my rack. Then like, 5 minutes for the GPON CPE, max? They'd obviously done a proper job of calculating optical power attenuation ahead of time so no issues there. Seriously a -half a day- to install and configure CPE? That makes no sense at all, so it must be some Comcast thing, or something went wrong. GPON is binary, it's either within acceptable optical power range or not.

If you're counting anything LAN side beyond the fiber end point you shouldn't because that is completely independent from the WAN drop and represents an arbitrary amount of time that will be different for every customer.


In Maryland, all work in rights of way must be done by a company specially authorized by the state to perform utility-related construction. Then each county has licensing and permitting processes for work "related" to telecom utilities. Additionally, our utilities are above ground, and our neighborhood is too tight to allow use of a trencher, so all that work was done by hand. This is just how much of the northeast/mid-atlantic is. It's a double-edged sword: these are relatively high-density places where a single fiber cable can serve a lot of houses. But at the same time, they tend to be already built up (my subdivision was laid out in 1920), dense with narrow access ways, and in counties/states with lots of bureaucracy. (I am currently working on a "vegetation management plan" so I can clear the weeds from my backyard.)

For one-off fiber installs, Comcast uses active Ethernet instead of GPON, so maybe that's why the CPE installation took so long. Although, to be fair, I'm counting the time it took to drill a hole in the foundation as part of the half day of CPE install and the time to configure the router/access point--neither of which your average customer is qualified to do themselves.


A four year degree shows a man can be trained.

After guiding in the low hundreds of employees from a place of no experience to being competent in technical roles, I've learned that the outcomes of training are a test of management and leadership. People you might avoid in passing on the street, whose life circumstances you might disdain, who have succeeded nowhere else can be trained to do immensely complicated and valuable things and make a career out of it.

If you don't want anecdata, then look no further than the success of the US military. You might have fewer teeth than fingers, but they'll find a place for you.


Four year college graduates are selected from among a pool of people who did well in high school. Likewise, I suspect the employees you work with were not hired from among the ranks of the chronically unemployed. The US military is not a good counter-example. Members of the armed forces, both at the enlisted and officer levels, are better educated than the population as a whole.

This is not a matter of “disdaining” anyone’s “life circumstances.” It’s a matter of acknowledging that infrastructure work requires skills that not everyone has, just like programming does.


> A fiber splicer is a $5,000+ piece of equipment.

Nah. A fusion splicer costs $900. You can train a monkey to splice fiber. I give you exhibit A: me, the monkey.

I had no previous formal training in fiber optics nor splicing before I got my first fusion splicer. I read the instructions and I started splicing.


Like most manual construction jobs, they can be done by anyone, with training. The hard, expensive, time consuming, and difficult part is finding people that give enough of a fuck to do a decent job consistently without constant direct supervision. Once you've got good entry level staff then you need to train them. Most people don't go into construction to be a teacher, so that's a whole other problem to solve.

Likewise, all else being equal, I'd flip burgers over any construction job. I've met far too many broken people that were ate up and spit out by construction companies in their forties to spend the rest of their lives on Medicaid and disability to risk my future working ability for a temporary, seasonal, small pay bump.


I don't know anything about Windstream, but Frontier is another firm (others include FairPoint and Hawaiian Telcom) that tried to find a business in Verizon's trash bin. In every case, poor service and bankruptcy was what they found instead. Regulators knew they shouldn't let VZN divest from these customer bases, so they imposed some fig-leaf requirements that didn't accomplish anything.


> but Frontier is another firm (others include FairPoint and Hawaiian Telcom) that tried to find a business in Verizon's trash bin

Can confirm; now our ISP/telco is Ziply Fiber, whoever they are.


Ziply is small, headquartered in Kirkland, WA. So far, they have managed to get local TV station KIRO 7 back on their lineup after 2 years of Frontier refusing to pay what KIRO's owners, Cox Communications, were asking.

The monthly bill has gotten totally out of hand, though.


The problem with treating internet as a utility, is a lot of the homes in Vermont have their own water well and septic tank and don't have water, sewer as a utility.


I assume those homes have power? Power is a utility.

Fun side note: Green Mountain Power, the largest power utility in Vermont, is working with Tesla on distributed energy storage and grid management to lower power costs and for resiliency purposes (to reduce power outages in the winter due to extreme winter weather conditions). This is how a utility is supposed to work!


I've got that, a couple of subsidized Tesla Powerwalls where the deal is they get to draw up to 50% of the juice during high load times. It's a pretty reasonable deal. From the customer point of view it definitely can take the place of a generator, GMP is pretty fast about bringing power back up usually so a few PW2s is pretty good even without solar. And unlike a generator PWs don't have regular testing/maintenance/consumables/noise/pollution. On GMP's side though the big point is to offset having to buy very expensive peak load power. It's already saved them a ton of money, old press piece for example:

https://greenmountainpower.com/2018/07/24/whoa-heatwave-savi...

I'll be a little curious if usage patterns are different this summer with more people home, but it's worked out well for them under typical conditions when there are big spikes in the afternoon/evening as people get back and turn on AC or the like.


Hmm, good point.

I'm about to move to Vermont and Green Mountain Power will be my power utility. It's good to hear this!


I wish you the best. Vermont is beautiful, and a lovely place to call home.


I moved from Vermont to the Bay Area a couple years ago and the internet service from Burlington Telecom was fast and inexpensive. I think I paid $40 for 150Mbps or something. I'm now basically limited to Xfinity out here and dealing with customer service is the typical Comcast nightmare.

Thanks for sharing the article. I was loosely aware of the issues with the company but not the whole picture.


$35 is too low for gigabit service with high northeastern labor costs. It might be reasonable for France or Spain, where the workers on the lines make $40,000 and taxes pay for benefits, but it’s not doable for the USA, where skilled labor like maintaining fiber lines pays $80,000+ with employer-paid benefits.

Verizon’s RPU is about $100/month for FiOS. Year after year (for the 15 or so years since they launched FiOS) the operating margin of the wireline division is under 5%.

Chatanooga’s public electric utility offers a gigabit tier at $68/month. It’s financially viable with some subsidy from the electric utility, which also uses the fiber network for smart grid. And also they have cheaper labor in a right to work state.


I believe $35 is their subsidized rate for students and whatnot. Their standard rate is around $70.


I stayed at a campground in Burlington (North Beach) a few times and the free "municipal" wifi was very fast and quite impressive compared to the options available elsewhere. It wasn't quite as fast that last time we visited, but much more reliable than most public options.


Curious; what were the mismanagement mistakes and how can they be avoided, suggestions?

It’s not obvious. I’d like for something like this to succeed, but one rarely sees things align to where noble goals don’t attract perverse incentives.


It was run by progressive policies instead of business principles. This is going to fail too, the same people are going to make the same mistakes. They could not even deliver broadband within the city limits, how are they going to do it statewide? Think Mosquito coast.


“It was run by progressive policies instead of business principles.“

You should probably elaborate on this. Otherwise it’s an empty statement.


There's no need to run a municipal agency as if it were a private business. What do you imagine the difference between "progressive policies" and "business principals" are?


While "maximize profit" and "deliver shareholder value" are a recipe for predatory behavior when applied to government organizations and government granted monopolies there's definitely a need for municipal departments to pay attention to money input in relation to services output.

I'm unaware of the specific details but I suspect Burlington Telecom lit a bunch of money on fire chasing some noble goal and in the process compromised their ability to do some other key part of their job in a satisfactory manner. This isn't an uncommon failure mode for municipal government departments that suffer scope creep.


It still seems rather vague to attempt to blame "progressive policies" as somehow being opposed to just logical mathematics.

IMO after reading the it, this current plan is pretty far away from Progressive, so I think PC was off base anyway.


Municipal agencies are still bound by the constraints of resource scarcity — and the goal should always be to efficiently provide services to citizens without glut/waste. You're right that municipal agencies shouldn't need to worry about turning a profit, but they should also need to make sure they don't run at a loss.


Isn't the whole point to not run utilities by business principles? I think the idea is to classify some services as "must have for a decent life" and make sure everyone has access to them, regardless of profitability.

What kind of progressive policies are you thinking of?


No, the point is that you no longer need to worry about sending profits to shareholders. "Business principles" are just a catch-all term for ideas that businesses need to co-opt in order to survive, including financial sustainability, effective leadership, producing results, operationalization, etc.

All of these things can and should apply to public utilities.


"Business principles" does encourage a capitalist view into the problem, which necessitates growing capital as profit until you have surplus to invest in further growth. I think that's as far as you need to go with it -- utilities need to "play the game" because they're embedded in a capitalist system, but they are not subject to the same pressures regarding that profit and who decides what to do with it. It's not really a "business vs utility" dichotomy as much as it is a question of "where does the excess money go". You could argue they're the same thing but setting utilities up explicitly as "not businesses" encourages wonks to throw wacky ideas at the problem and doesn't do much to help the operations day to day.


I mean, I don't think we can ever agree because "business principles" is a vague phrase that has no official definition. It can mean whatever you want it to mean.

More fundamentally, capitalist businesses try to maximize output of goods and services to consumers while minimizing the input necessary to create & produce them. The difference between the two, the profit, is the incentive to do more with less. This is how we allocate scarce resources to productive ends.

Municipal agencies are also bound by the constraints of resource scarcity. The goal should always be to efficiently provide services to citizens without glut/waste. You're right that municipal agencies shouldn't need to worry about turning a profit, but they should also need to make sure they don't run at a loss. If the input to a municipal service is (subsidized) price + tax revenue, the outlays of the municipal agency are bound by that input. Bonus points if the municipal agency is able to provide high quality goods & services with lower taxes.

The only way we know to accomplish all of this are through standard management practices which, today, are adopted by capitalist businesses.


Whatever the economic model used, business principles apply. Even pharaohs had to abide by “business principles”. In other words, as 5year plans have borne out, you can’t just make things so. Finite resources, allocation, timelines, balancing many needs effectively.


I wish more states viewed it this way. I think that COVID19 has proven that Internet isn't a luxury, it's a utility that we all need. In a world with online meetings being the way to simply hang out with your friends, those with bad Internet connections are suffering more. It shouldn't be that way.


I have a coworker who basically doesn't participate in meetings. Their connection is so bad that maybe 10% of their sentences are intelligible.


Some video conferencing providers allow you to call in to a meeting with a landline telephone. I know Zoom does, anyway. No video, obviously, just voice.


I live in Longmont, Colorado, and we have cheap municipal fiber.

1Gbps, synchronous, $55/mo.

Just now:

https://www.speedtest.net/result/9466487634.png

Similar speeds on Netflix's fast.com.

This is what happens when monopolies have competition they can bully, but not buy.


Hello neighbor! Fort Collins, CO checking in - municipal fiber, same service / speeds BUT we do have to pay $5 more per month. Oh well. :) Looks like quite a few other cities in CO are joining us soon..


Very cool! Apparently it costs a bit more now than when I first signed up. Also, they support 10G! I'm already wiring up everything with Cat8 and I'm looking for a 10G Router and a 10G Switch.

It's been hard to find just the right one, though. Almost as hard as finding the perfect bento box.

I'm looking for a 16-port or 24-port switch, ideally they'd all be 10G, but I could compromise a little on a few being multigig. Also, I'm not really worried about PoE, I don't have anything that could use that yet, and if I ever did, I'd purchase a separate switch, and probably not 10G.

Price isn't a major concern, if I can't afford it, I'll just hold off with what I have until I can, and I've never really used a managed network interface, so I'd probably just prefer an unmanaged one.

I do need to have a separate subnet for my wireless router set in AP mode, so whatever 10G router I choose, I'd want it to be able to support that.

I've been looking into Mikrotik and Ubiquiti, and they don't seem to quite offer exactly what I'm looking for. Cisco might, but their site is... Incredibly difficult to use.


Surprised people with the tinfoil hats aren't worried about the city spying on people with municipal fiber.

But kinda neat if the private companies are failing to meet the demand. I think Fiber would help attract startups and also more technical people who care about internet speeds.

I wish my area had more incentives for tech and startups, but sounds like that probably won't happen anytime soon. Seen a news report some young guy created a iPhone app and couldn't get funding, so ended up leaving for San Francisco. Seems like some of these areas are doing a major disservice and persuading a entire generation to leave for their inaction by not keeping up with the times. Well I guess that is part of the brain drain problem. I wanted to start a computer club in middle school since the principle announced wanting to start more social clubs and activities, but of course that didn't go anywhere... Well considering funding a fire department and community recreation center is even hard here, I doubt faster internet is a priority.

Kinda wonder how many people factor in internet speeds when moving.


I've been looking into buying a house and moving to Vermont. The topic of fuller, better internet coverage seems to come up every few years. So I'm a little skeptical to see it now.

I'm not sure I'd consider it a blocker to moving there, even if I'm dependent on the internet for work. I'm assuming I'll always be able to lease an office within an hour drive of the house.

I wonder how practical satellite options like Viasat are says it gets 12-100Mbps download across Vermont. That's as good as Comcast's consumer broadband gets you in Philly.

If there are any folks here who own and live on land in Vermont I'd love to ask you more about how/where you're living and working, if you wouldn't mind.


Moved to VT in early January from the Boston area, in what was by sheer chance, a very timely move. We rent.

We live in a bit of an odd development/area. Think of it as a golf course community minus the golf course: under a dozen homes, low density, and private roads. We quite like it, but it's an unusual arrangement from a utilities standpoint.

We have Comcast. The other options were VTEL via satellite and cellular wireless. We struck cellular wireless from the list for reasons we're all well familiar with ("unlimited", caps, speed restrictions, cost). VTEL was going to be complicated because we have a metal roof, among other things. We're told that unofficially we can get line of sight to nearby VTEL infra, but convincing VTEL of this seemed like a lot of work while we were moving.

We got ridiculously lucky on begin able to get Comcast. The pole our cable comes off of is literally the last pole with coax on it. In this regard, I suppose I'm replying to you from the actual end of the internet. There is possibly one other house within the radius of the pole that Comcast is wiling to pull a line. That's 300' for a temp line, which they did for us because the ground was frozen and the couldn't bury a line when they did the original install. I don't know if it's longer if they can do a direct bury.

The latency and throughput aren't as good as they were in the Boston area, but it's good enough. Zoom calls tend towards blurry, but Netflix and Youtube are certainly serviceable. Instagram videos tend to pause a lot for buffering. Bad websites are apocalyptically bad. Joann.com, for example, is horrendously slow. I'm guessing they never worried too much about e-commerce until quite recently.

I'm told that the cable company put coax up to the development way back in the day, but that nobody actually subscribed, and so the line was never brought any farther in.


> I'm told that the cable company put coax up to the development way back in the day, but that nobody actually subscribed, and so the line was never brought any farther in.

That happens, especially if it's a lower density area.

Usually the way it goes is if the region is close to the minimum 'homes passed/mile' metric they'll do a minimum build-out, that way if there's enough interest and/or HPM goes above threshold it's not absurdly expensive to finish the buildout (and/or buildout as people actually request service.)


When comparing satellite to terrestrial broadband, you can't just look at bandwidth.

Latency (ping time) is possibly even more important, both absolute latency and variability of latency. You can have plenty of bandwidth to host an audio or video call and have an utterly terrible experience from latency/jitter/packet loss.


I frequently have phone calls with customers via sat phones. The latency is pretty tough. With experience one learns to leave lots of pauses to allow for the other person to interject if needed. But it’s still frustrating.

Then I think about the latency that would be there with ANY communications 30 years ago and think “wow! This is amazing!”


I am in Chittenden County just outside of Burlington and even areas here may have spotty broadband connection at best once you get outside of the bigger areas and in-between Chittenden and Addison or Franklin counties. I would suggest checking with Comcast if you want the best internet around (Unless you can get into Burlington, or some areas that have their own Fiber lines like Hinesburg in some areas)

I have coworkers that have DSL and can't do video meetings currently if anyone else at the house is using the internet also, but if its just one person than most the internet options are ok.

They did just launch an initiative with Comcast (We will see how well that actually goes) to get broadband to a number of smaller towns in Vermont, mostly around the Addison area. As for Satellite options here, I will caution you against them unless you want a frustrating experience because depending on where you live, you may live in a valley covered by trees, and with our cloud coverage and rain patterns, it could be a bit of a bummer but again, if it's just a single person, I've known a few that have been able to make it work for the most part. Again, depending on where you live here it may be better but I know people getting less than 10Mbps down on their satellite connection.

Leasing office space may be a challenge if you are not near a bigger area. We don't have co-working spaces and rent is notoriously high here for both residential and commercial.


>If there are any folks here who own and live on land in Vermont I'd love to ask you more about how/where you're living and working, if you wouldn't mind.

I was born in Burlington and after leaving for a decade-ish moved back a good 11 years ago now. I've got a house maybe 20-30 min from Burlington, family has a farm up towards the Northeast Kingdom and I've got friends scattered around the state as well as projects I've done in various places. As I said in another comment on this topic, there is 1G symmetric fiber at my house now with a pretty great local company. There are other fiber efforts scattered around the state as well, like ECFiber who are based in South Royalton. Vermont broadband can definitely be very feast or famine in some cases, with fiber options in surprising areas but the instant you get a bit farther away you're down to rapidly degrading DSL and/or maybe cable. Verizon/ATT/Tmobile cellular coverage maps in Vermont are also a flagrant lie, don't count on anything in many places let alone LTE. Lots of shadows from mountains.

Basically, if you just pick a property at random based on other factors it'll be hit or miss. You can't -count- on broadband anywhere you want, though presumably Starlink will change that at some point since Vermont is fairly far north and low density. But if you do some research first you should definitely be able to find property with good options, tons of beautiful places including fairly rural ones where you've got good choice. You just have to take that into account in your research. And of course right now a lot of installations are on hold/backed up, you'll want to check on timelines there (it'll help if no in-home access is needed).


I'm in the Woodstock area with access to EC Fiber, which is wonderful (another comment noted that they're looking at using EC Fiber as a model for this program.)

750 symmetric fiber. We had a couple days of outages last year, and the customer service response from EC Fiber is just a completely different thing than Comcast. We got a full post-mortem on what went wrong, why it happened, and what they were doing to fix it moving forward, as well as a bill credit. Other than that period, which was related to an aging line needing replacement, service has been rock solid. I'm generally downloading and uploading gigabytes per day with no issues, and I regularly see real-life 45MB/sec real-life download speeds.

Access to a high-speed internet connection was definitely a priority when we were looking for property, and it took some effort to get realtors to understand that we really did mean it when it came to access.


I'm moving to Southwest Vermont on the 29th of May. So far the best internet provider we can get is consolidated communications at 25Mbps with a two year contract.

I think we will be going with AT&T enterprise unlimited cellular internet, which the sim card can be had on ebay.


> AT&T enterprise unlimited cellular internet, which the sim card can be had on ebay

Depending on your exact location relative to network towers that might work fine. I'm in Southern Vermont (Readboro) and had success buying $50 SIM cards from here: https://www.ebay.com/itm/4G-LTE-ATT-Unlimited-HOTSPOT-Data-5....

I eventually ended up going with VTel Wireless instead: https://www.vtelwireless.com. Speeds were about the same, it was a bit cheaper, and felt better to use a local company. I needed a good MIMO antenna to get good speeds with either. Good luck!


When I went to look at houses, I ended buying a netgear nighthawk and got a sim card from that same ebay seller to test signal at potential homes.

I'll be in the North Bennington/Shaftsbury area. I ended up getting a high gain mimo antenna to increase speeds based on experience with the same setup on an island on the St. Lawrence river. Looks like from my house I should have a line of site 3.5 miles to one of VTel's points. I might have to go local once I finish the move.


I live one mile from town center in Danville and my only option is 7/1 DSL from Consolidated. I run a technology company out of the house and if I have to push up a build, it can take 8 hours or more. There is a coax line not 400 feet from my property and my 4 neighbors and I offered Charter $6000 toward their build costs as well as long term contracts and they told us to get lost. They simply do not care about rural America.


Why don't you have servers in a colo or the cloud to manage builds?


VT has a surprising amount of Gb coverage considering its low population density. There are quite a few small ISPs providing fiber.

That said, there are areas with very poor connectivity too. You have to be careful.


Things are fine in Brattleboro provided you aren't too far out of town. I understand things are a bit spottier if you live too far out.


Yay for Vermont, but I hope they give their plan some teeth when the big telcos (who presumably would be doing the work) inevitably do not deliver on their promises.

It would be much better if they turn it into the state-wide equivalent of municipal broadband. Maybe that's what they are thinking? The article is very light on details.


My wife is a VT teacher, in secondary education. Obviously with Covid all students are being educated online. Those who do not have an online are at a quite significant disadvantage.

That is, at least until this is over broadband to all can be thought of as, in part, component of a statewide education infrastructure.


Godspeed Vermont. May you have more success than your promised single-payer health care.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vermont_health_care_reform


Municipal internet is something we should all get behind because the internet is no longer a luxury, or a tool, it's an essential service. Imagine not having the internet in the next pandemic.


I mean, I don't know that the essentialness of internet is a strong enough argument, there are so many things that are essential that we don't municipally provide — food, clothing, shelter, etc.

The strongest argument for municipal internet is more that, like roads, it lends itself to natural monopolies.


So in my mind, the municipality owning the fiber, and terminating it somewhere, then allowing whatever ISP wants to plug in to service customers seems ideal.

This lets us get away from a single incumbent owning the last mile, while avoiding the municipality becoming a cable company/telecom/internet provider etc.

What parts of the municipality being more involved appeal to you?


Food is also essential. Do we have municipal farms?


Kindof.

We provide massive subsidies to farmers. Then the farmers give us food.

But when we provide massive subsidies to ISPs, they don’t invest; They just spend it on executive bonuses and stock buybacks.


Growing up in Vermont wifi was so bad. Cell signal is still pretty awful in many parts of the state especially the northern kingdom.

Hope this goes through. I have friends that are still on dial up.


> That’s defined as speeds of 25 megabits per second for download and 3 megabits per second for upload.

I really wish they just considered symmetrical speeds. These bizarre asymmetric speed limits are just a made-up limitation of the Comcast era.


"Comcast era" is not accurate, nor is the limitation "made up". ADSL service in fact has been the best option for a lot of us in Vermont and other rural areas, and while DSL can be symmetric as a technology it gets hard in spread out deployments to keep up signal. There are real tradeoffs to make when total bandwidth (in the signal sense) is pretty limited, trying to get pushed over old copper.

Going forward yes, it'd be nice to see symmetric speeds get emphasized more and hopefully made standard for any future targets. Widely deployed decent symmetric links would open up a lot of new options for decentralization, though it's probably worth being mindful of the negative effect it could have in terms of botnets if some thought isn't put into it. And a mere THREE down is definitely pretty absurd at this point, some friends on 25 Mbps ADSL still get 10 Mbps up and an office that is close enough to the provider to get 50 Mbps down is at ~24 up. But having some asymmetry at all doesn't seem inherently unfair yet? Between wisps/starlink/fiber maybe symmetric can be the goal next definition update.


We're currently fighting to get this definition changed to 100/100 symmetrical, because as you say this magic number of 25/3 lets DSL in the door, which in turn means incumbent providers can continue to get federal dollars that they will refuse to spend on infrastructure. Telcos will claim their ancient 50 year old copper is capable of delivering 25/3 to an area, when in fact only the first 5 houses on a road get near that number. If you happen to be the 12th house down the road (about a mile out) you get 7/1 on a good day because the copper was strung in the late 1950s. The minimum standard having a symmetric speed requirement prevents small diameter copper from stealing money from the pot.


>We're currently fighting to get this definition changed to 100/100 symmetrical

TIL I don't have high speed internet.


I don’t think anyone except fiber providers are offering more than 10 mbps upload.

Because piracy is an existential problem for Comcast (owner of NBCUniversial among others) there’s incentive to keep upload SLOW.

And don’t get me started on bandwidth caps. I remember doing the math and realizing I could hit my bandwidth cap in 8 minutes if my internet went the full theoretical speed.


Who is “we” and how can I help?


Doesn't it have to do with DOCSIS channels, i.e. that they reserve most of the channels for downstream and only a couple for upstream?


Cart before horse.


  Population: 623,989
  23%: 143,517
  300,000,000/143,517.47 = 2090 USD


Wow dang, I hadn't done the math on that. That's much more cost effective than I though it'd be, what a deal!


I'm always surprised by how bad and expensive the internet providers in the US are. Where I am (think major city in a 3rd world country), I pay about 20 USD a month for 650gb at 150mbps (up and down).


Vermont has a troubled recent history with expensive, state-wide public initiatives:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vermont_health_care_reform#Gre...

The elimination of rent-seeking behavior from healthcare and Internet service is great, in theory. For whatever combination of reasons, the state government of Vermont and city government of Burlington have had difficulty putting this theory into practice.


I'd expect the Comcast lobbyists to go into overdrive to get this decision overturned. Also, I'd expect them to file a lawsuit against the state government of VT in a similar desired outcome. This would lead to the domino effect if it were allowed to occur.


I’m curious: on what grounds would Comcast have to sue? I could understand the US government stepping in with the Commerce Clause, but I don’t know of any laws that would give Comcast and friends the ability to sue.


To see a model of a municipal ISP succeeding, you can look at Chattanooga, TN's EPB.


It's really interesting watching the natural experiments that are the northern New England states. Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont are small, essentially the same founding stock, and yet they go in such radically different directions.


State wide broadband is extremely hard to do.

If you look at all the successful community broadband initiatives in the US, they are almost always at the city/county level.


These latest "broadband" efforts look like just another money grab by the same incumbents (Comcast, Frontier, etc) and the same state and federal bureaucracies that have failed to deliver competition and access. Vermont should simply announce full throated support for low-orbit satellite internet, which is under active deployment from SpaceX and also development from Amazon.


Absolutely agreed that the same inefficient companies are trying to grab the federal money once again. The difference this time is we have Communications Union Districts in place in many parts of the state that have veto power over proposed broadband projects in their region.

As for LEOS internet, the elephant in the room for this technology is vulnerability to solar flares and Kessler syndrome. Long term viability of satellite super constellations is seriously in doubt.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kessler_syndrome


I wonder if this will be used as an excuse to start censoring the internet just as the FCC used "public airwaves" as an excuse to censor broadcast.




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