NEWFANE -- There have been plenty of growing pains as state officials and private developers attempt to rapidly roll out new cellular service and expanded access to high-speed Internet.
This week in Newfane, officials from the Vermont Telecommunications Authority hope to provide a big-picture view of those changes in the Windham County area -- and to offer a glimpse of things to come.
Residents and business owners are asked to attend a public forum planned from 10 a.m. to noon Jan. 22 at NewBrook Fire and Rescue's station on Route 30 in Newfane.
The meeting was initiated by Windham Regional Commission in an attempt to provide some clarity to recent technological developments, Executive Director Chris Campany said.
"We're bringing VTA down to help people try to make sense of what's been installed, what's still to be installed and who will have access to it," Campany said.
Gov. Peter Shumlin has pushed to strengthen Vermont's spotty cellular coverage and made it a political priority to bring high-speed Internet access to "every address" in the state.
There also has been large amounts of federal funding to boost that effort.
The Shumlin administration fell short of its self-imposed Dec. 31, 2013 broadband deadline, but officials say they have made much progress and have found solutions for almost all Vermont addresses.
At the same time, though, there have been conflicts over how and when such technology should be deployed -- and by whose authority, given the state's accelerated permitting process for telecommunications projects.
In this area, tower proposals from VTel (wireless broadband) and AT&T (cellular service) have spurred controversy in communities such as Wardsboro, Dover, Putney and Newfane.
The latter community will host the Jan. 22 public meeting, which is meant to give an overview of the various projects and how they fit together. The session will be led by the Montpelier-based telecommunications authority, which lists "access to affordable broadband services" and "expanded availability of mobile telecommunication services" as main elements of its mission statement.
Topics for the NewBrook forum include cellular, fiber-optic and broadband-infrastructure projects as well as the "insights into opportunities these projects provide," organizers said.
Also included in the meeting is the Vermont Council on Rural Development. Among other projects, the council's Digital Economy Project has been developing free Wi-Fi zones in some town centers.
"They're going to talk about their different activities throughout the area," Campany said.
He added that, overall, "there's some confusion about who's doing what" when it comes to broadband expansion.
In a statement accompanying announcement of the forum, Campany put it this way: "People have seen crews stringing fiber-optic line and are aware of applications for wireless broadband and cell towers. We've gotten lots of questions about when the projects will be built, what areas will be served and who will be able to access the services."
There are limits, however, to the information that will be available at the NewBrook forum. For instance, the telecommunications authority won't be looking up specific addresses to determine the status of broadband availability.
For that kind of detailed information, officials suggest visiting www.broadbandvt.org, which is searchable by address. Residents also can call the Vermont Public Service Department's consumer assistance and public information line at 1-800-622-4496.
In a related development, Vermont Telecommunications Authority also is scheduling separate meetings in other towns to discuss a new initiative dubbed "Business Broadband Improvement Districts."
These districts are being developed through applications reviewed by the Vermont Agency of Administration. The idea is for the telecommunications authority to provide technical and/or financial support to improve high-speed Internet access for businesses within defined areas.
VTA expects to have such meetings with businesses in Putney, Wilmington and Halifax.
"The first phase for Business Broadband Improvement Districts is for the VTA to gather more detailed information from members of each district," said Christopher Campbell, the telecommunications authority's executive director.
"These meetings will begin that process in the Windham region, as well as provide an opportunity to share the process the VTA will use to identify potential solutions," Campbell added.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.