Sovernet continues expansion as 'back bone'
BRATTLEBORO — With questions over broadband service and quality around the state, Sovernet is clearing up any confusion on what it is currently up to.
"We are building infrastructure right now," said Sharon Combes-Farr, the company's director of marketing. "But we're not connecting the house in the woods around the corner."
A fiber network established with the help of a federal grant led to connections in September 2013. That was finished on time and on budget, said Combes-Farr.
The $33.4 million broadband-stimulus grant provided by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration went to the now-disbanded Vermont Telecommunications Authority in 2010. Sovernet was awarded the project through a request-for-proposals process.
The company, which was expected to match at least 20 percent of the grant, ended up investing $12 million in making service available to 342 "community anchors," Combes-Farr said, meaning schools, state facilities, hospitals, colleges and community organizations including Brattleboro Community Television, Community College of Vermont, Landmark College, Latchis Theatre and Brattleboro Town Offices. State funding also assisted in the efforts.
"Ninety percent are connected and in service, which is a very high rate," Combes-Farr said, explaining that some places were not yet ready to connect to the network.
The grant was meant to support "middle mile" or institutional customers with getting onto Sovernet's fiber network. Then broadband service providers could connect residences and small businesses, referred to as "last mile" customers. Sovernet is called a "backbone" as it provides the network that connects both types of customers.
A variety of companies specializing in telecommunications have access to the network.
"We are supporting these other companies who then extend deeper into Vermont," said Combes-Farr. "Sovernet is concentrating our network expansion to support businesses and other organizations."
She said Duncan Cable recently doubled its bandwidth and furthered its reach, making faster-speed internet now available to homes in Wilmington and other parts of the Deerfield Valley.
Not as many locations can be connected to the fiber network during the winter, Combes-Farr said, because the ground is frozen and cannot be dug up.
"It tends to be livelier in spring and fall," she said.
Sovernet is often contacted by mobile companies requesting assistance with connecting to new cell towers, according to Combes-Farr. Two new cell towers are expected to serve local mobile users soon.
"This is for one of the top three national mobile phone providers," she said, unable to give the names. "The cell tower in Brattleboro is already connected and the one in Newfane will be connected later this month."
Construction is wrapping up on the $6 million "state-of-the-art data center" in Williston and it will offer remote data-storage space to organizations, Combes-Farr said. A warehouse was converted for the project.
"We continue to expand the network. We just expanded in Barre. We're in the middle of expanding in Colchester and Middlebury," said Combes-Farr. "We continue to extend the footprint really every day."
She said she sees access and options only improving over the years.
And as far as costs to the customer go, Combes-Farr is optimistic.
"I know it's hard because there's some regions of the state that do not have adequate broadband. But I will say that Vermont has an incredible infusion of interest and investment in broadband over the last five years," she said. "Anytime you have increased competition, I think you have leveling of prices."
But, Combes-Farr added, all the providers are offering a different service so it can be difficult "to talk about one cost over the cost of another."
Contact Chris Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.
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