Wednesday April 10, 2013

HALIFAX -- The Selectboard met with representatives from the Vermont Digital Economy Project on April 2 to discuss the grant the town was recently awarded from the Vermont Council on Rural Development.

"The Vermont Digital Economy Project’s main funding is from the Vermont Economic Development Administration," said Vermont Digital Economy Project Director Sharon Combes-Farr. "It’s a disaster relief grant. That’s why we’re delivering by priority to towns highly impacted by flooding."

She mentioned that the Vermont Digital Economy Project would be providing assistance to other towns in the surrounding area, such as Wilmington, Marlboro, Brattleboro and Guilford.

"These are our first five towns," she said. "They’re designated by priority due to the immediate impact of (Tropical Storm Irene)."

Setting up a hotspot for wi-fi Internet access and improving the town’s website were the main goals, which the Halifax Selectboard had in mind when it was told it would get assistance with some services provided through the grant.

The Halifax Broadband Committee has steadily been looking for ways to bring more Internet service to the community. "The last mile" is what is referred to as the parts of town that have not yet been hooked up to the Internet due to location.

The grant from the Vermont Council on Rural Development may help Halifax get coverage for that "last mile," but, moreover, it should assist with strengthening the town’s technological infrastructure. That includes getting more people connected to the Internet.

Selectboard Chairwoman Edee Edwards brought up Flood Recovery Officer Anthony Summers, who came from the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation last week to discuss how he could help Halifax.

Edwards presented a list of the local businesses in town that could be assisted.

"Maybe we can make a push for economic development," said Edwards. "But we can’t fit any more meetings in our schedule. We’d like to find someone to (address) these issues."

Selectboard member Earl Holtz said there is a "certain amount of frustration" with being on the Broadband Committee. He said it was difficult to get interest from broadband service vendors.

"We’re not big enough," said Bruno, on why the companies may not be interested in providing Internet coverage to Halifax.

The Halifax Community Center, Historical Society and emergency responders were among the list of non-profit organizations that could be serviced by the grant, too.

Wi-fi Internet service was brought up by Digital Economy Network and Outreach Coordinator Caitlin Lovegrove. She asked if there was a location that would make the most sense to carry wi-fi service.

"This area is probably the most central location of town," said Holtz, referring to the Halifax Town Office, which is next to the Halifax School and Halifax Fire Department.

Lovegrove thought choosing one location for a hotspot might be a good idea. Brainstorming, she thought of the Halifax Community Center.

Lovegrove also mentioned that creating a wi-fi hotspot along with a coffee stand or place to stop may be an idea worth exploring. And having a "landing page" for wi-fi users at the hotspot location that will say something along the lines of "Welcome to Halifax," with links related to the town could also be a step towards economic development, she suggested.

Lovegrove brought up the idea of making the Halifax Town Offices open to the public for wi-fi usage. She said there would be a cost for an Internet Service Provider connection, but with assistance from the grant, the town could receive the equipment to make a wi-fi hotspot happen.

It can be either one hotspot or two hotspots, but the price for the ISP will fall on the town.

Lovegrove thought making a group in charge of the potential hotspot would be helpful to making it.

"I think we could motivate some of the Broadband Committee members to help in that direction," said Holtz.

The board will need to find a place for people to use the Internet and a place for a hotspot that may be close to the emergency operation center.

"It was a good meeting. I was encouraged," said Holtz. "I think we will get support for a hotspot. That includes some of the equipment that could be very beneficial. I think there’s a potential to improve our town website in some fashion and both of those will be helpful."

After the meeting, Holtz was able to successfully install Fairpoint low-end broadband DSL service.

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or cmays@reformer.com. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.