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A group representing 24 communities in three Vermont counties announced it entered into a memorandum of understanding with internet service provider Great Works Internet of Biddeford, Maine, in partnership with ValleyNet of Royalton, to secure broadband access for every home and business in its district.

DVFiber, the Deerfield Valley Communications Union District, said its governing board unanimously approved the MOU at a special meeting Thursday.

“We are pleased to begin work alongside GWI to complete this vitally important work,” DVFiber Board Chairwoman Ann Manwaring said in a news release. “With this budding partnership, the vision of securing broadband access for everyone in our district is just that much closer to becoming a reality. We are fortunate to have funding from the [federal] American Recovery Act to accelerate our work.”

The communications union district (CUD) was established about a month after affirmative annual Town Meeting votes in the Windham County towns of Halifax, Marlboro, Stratton, Whitingham and Wilmington in March 2020. It has since expanded to span 24 towns including Brattleboro, most recently adding Brookline to its ranks.

Each town is “committed to securing reliable high-speed internet for all residents,” states the news release.

“GWI is incredibly excited to partner with DVFiber to bring fiber optic high-speed broadband to the DVFiber community, driven by choice and community asset ownership,” stated Kerem Durag, GWI president and chief operating officer. “The reliable, robust and affordable open access network will allow the community to participate in 21st century activities like telehealth, remote working, distance education. Participation will help create multigenerational opportunities for economic, personal and community development.”

A request of proposals brought in about 12 responses from internet service providers, DVFiber Board Vice Chairman Steven John said at the Brattleboro Rotary Club at a meeting held remotely Thursday. He estimated the total project will cost about $50 million and receive federal funds funneled through the state.

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GWI is a certified B-Corporation, which the news release describes as “a designation identifying for-profit companies that use the power of business to build a more inclusive and sustainable economy.” The company says it values “support open access, net neutrality, and data privacy.”

ValleyNet is said to have “a nearly 20-year history of broadband network construction and operation in the Upper Valley around White River Junction.” The company works with ECFiber, Vermont’s first communications union district which has 30 member towns.

“There are many solutions to ensure powerful broadband universal access in Vermont and I’m pleased that ValleyNet can be part of the solution for DVFiber,” stated ValleyNet Board Chair Carol Monroe. “It’s essential that we leave no town behind. Our partnership with GWI in serving the southern Vermont region brings the strength and expertise of two companies that have experience in delivering a high quality reliable service. This project strives to ensure all premises in the District will be able to receive affordable, accessible, high speed broadband fulfilling the needs of today and for many years to come.”

DVFiber said pre-construction work, engineering and design is anticipated to begin in the summer and fall with construction coming next year. The group’s business plan seeks to make fiber-based internet available to unserved and poorly served areas by the end of 2024, a goal that GWI has committed to help achieve.

“This partnership is a great step forward for rural Vermont,” stated State Rep. Laura Sibilia, I-Windham-Bennington, who represents six towns in the local communications union district. “Bringing high speed internet to rural Vermont has been a commitment of mine ever since I was elected to the Vermont House of Representatives. CUDs, which are special purpose municipalities, were established by the Legislature to bring 21st century Internet connections to people who live where commercial providers would not go. I am so proud of all the volunteers who came together to make this happen, and I would like to thank the legislators from all our district towns for their support.”

John said the local area is attractive for people to telecommunicate and raise families. His group’s plan calls for the CUD to be self sustaining through user fees.

The board will control customer service and terminate an agreement with a provider if it is not happy, John said. He thanked all the supporters and volunteers.