Saturday, April 15
STAMFORD -- When C.J. Vadnais founded the Southwestern Vermont Broadband Cooperative last September, he was doing far more than giving high-speed Internet to the 30 households within the broadcast radius: He was helping this tiny mountain town of 900 people take a leap into the 21st century not often seen in towns five times its size.

Now Vadnais aims to do no less than double his original accomplishment and expand the co-op from servicing 30 homes to a total of 60 or possibly more.

The broadband service expansion is significant because it is unusual for a town as small as Stamford to have broadband at all. It is one of only a dozen towns in the country to have successfully founded a broadband cooperative.

It was big enough news to catch the eyes of Marlboro and Dummerston in Windham County, which are looking into broadband service in their towns and see Stamford as an example of how it might be done.

Before the creation of the broadband service, the only way to access the Internet in Stamford was via a dial-up modem. People who needed broadband to send large files were forced to use a satellite ISP.

Vadnais -- a computer programmer at Williams College -- said that the cost of the expansion project will depend on whether he can find usable antennas close to Stamford Elementary School.

If nothing new needs to be constructed, the cost could be as low as $1,200. If new antennas need to be constructed, the cost could be as high as $4,000.

With regard to the number of households potentially served by this move, he said that "we will go as far as the money will take us."

Money has been a source of concern for some residents, who wondered aloud at last week's public hearing about how the loans for the co-op would be repaid and who was keeping track.

The expansion of the broadband service involves setting up signal repeaters, large antennas that can relay the signal currently being broadcast from the top of the elementary school.

The current antennas have the ability to broadcast access to the school's T1 line for up to 25 miles in ideal conditions, but heavy foliage in the area prevents the signal from reaching much farther than 1.5 miles.

The signal repeaters would solve this problem.

Vadnais said that the chance of a telephone or cable company wanting to expand its broadband services to Stamford would be very low.

"It's such a small market up here. I don't know how it would be worth it ... but it could always happen. And you know with telephone and cable companies -- you're at their mercy," he said.