SAXTONS RIVER -- A region in southeastern Vermont will receive the fastest consumer connection to the Internet anywhere in the United States, according to the office of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
Saxtons River, Grafton, Springfield and 11 neighboring towns are in the process of getting upgraded to state-of-the-art broadband Internet access at speeds 100 times faster than average and faster than anywhere else in the country except for a Kansas City, Mo., pilot project by Google.
Sanders told the Reformer that high-quality Internet access is crucial to Vermont's financial health.
"The world is radically changing economically and I have been concerned for a long time that parts of Vermont (miss out on the benefits of Internet access)," he said Wednesday. "Some parts get virtually no service at all."
He said better Internet can entice in-state businesses to expand and out-of-state businesses to move to the area and bring with them good-paying jobs.
Sanders said a study conducted a few years ago ranked Vermont 35th in the country in terms of Internet access. He said, however, the state will become No. 1 within a few years, as service will become nearly universal.
The senator said Internet access today is what roads were more than 100 years ago. He compared the Internet to a "21st century road network" and said isolated businesses can expand and reach a wider consumer base.
This development is a result of a federal, state and local government partnership with private business to significantly upgrade the Internet infrastructure in the Springfield area and in other parts of Vermont. The Springfield project is being built by Springfield-based Vermont Telephone Co. (VTel), which received federal funds to build the fiber network that will provide affordable broadband access throughout its 14-town service area.
John Caceres, of VTel marketing, said the project is part of a $116 million Rural Utility Service grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He said the construction process is expected to be finished by the end of November.
The other towns that will benefit from the upgrade are Chester, North Springfield, Bridgewater, Cuttingsville, Wallingford, Hartland, Killington, Pawlet, Danby, Mount Holly and Middletown Springs.
According to Sanders' office, about 1,500 homes and business in the Springfield area already have the new fiber-optic connection, a number VTel expects will double by the end of December. During the remainder of this year and throughout 2014, homes will continue to be linked to that network.
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.