Someone once said that the worst enemy of a good plan was the pursuit of a perfect one.
Truer words have never been spoken, concerning the current broadband bill before the House and Senate here in Vermont.
Let’s face it, I live on a dirt road as do many Vermonters. I don’t expect 1 gigabit per second fiber. I would be happy with reliable and affordable 10/10 Mbps service. If I wanted a paved road and curbs I’d live in the suburbs. I enjoy my reliable electricity and I expect reasonable reliability from my internet service provider. Having been a Fairpoint customer and now a Consolidated Communications Customer (Constipated for short), I went from having DSL that at least worked most of the time to DSL that doesn’t work most of the time. All it needs to be able to do is download, upload, handle Zoom or equivalent and stay up and running 99.9 percent of the time. My Constipated Communications DSL can do none of these things.
What I need now and as do many rural Vermonters is reliable internet service that works! This however does not appear to be the shiny bauble on the wish list of certain state planners.
After a year plus of a “2 week” lockdown we all know the value and importance of a good communications pipeline.
In my case I have a home based business and as a disabled person I work from home because I find this superior to the alternative which would be collecting disability. One would think the state of Vermont would be interested in keeping us gainfully employed in the highly digital economy. But, according to Chris Pearson (D-Chittenden) and Ruth Hardy (D-Addison), I can take my disabled self straight to hell and make sure the door misses my butt on the way out. That certainly is inclusive of them.
With my home business I struggled mightily during the pandemic not only with the demands placed upon me by the lockdown but by the complete lack of working infrastructure.
During the pandemic I found I was unable to access medical care since I was unable to utilize telemedicine. This resulted in multiple hospitalizations for me. During this year of lockdown I racked up over 15,000 miles just to get access to the internet each day to upload and download files for my work, never mind the joy of sitting outside of a building when its 10 below zero while waiting for files to upload or making calls.
At which point is it ok to be denied access to 911 service?
Is it ok that cell service was taken away due to a frequency change so that a wealthy neighborhood on another hill could have faster texting and other services?
Is it ok that my 104-pound wife had to load me into the wheelbarrow after I had a seizure outside in the snow, to get me inside so that she could hike to the top of the neighbor’s field to call the doctor?
Are these things ok with you?
Well, the state of Vermont seems to think that these situations are perfectly acceptable for now and into the distant future.
To put this is a historical perspective:
Back in 2004, the last year Vermont had a communications plan on file, I was part of a small group that built a broadband network to serve the unserved in the rugged, rural, and sparsely populated rural Pacific Northwest. For nearly a decade I served as its president, tower climber and network administrator. That network still thrives today and now spans from the Central Oregon coast to the Canadian border. Yet, 17 years later, Vermont still struggles. Why?
In my system, we brought service to the underserved and unserved first. I know from everything that I have read coming from the Communications Union Districts (CUDs) and knowledgeable experts, that the CUDs are insisting on strictly long term and expensive fiber solutions and these incoherent plans lack priority ranking, and interim plans for less expensive and more expeditious technologies such as wireless were not even considered. Even expensive mobile wireless despite data caps would bring 911 emergency calling where we live. Escalating costs for fiber materials and labor shortages will quickly deplete available funds. Depending on single technologies usually creates significant vulnerabilities and no resilience.
Thus this B.S. plan defies the whole purpose of the broadband initiative, which is to bring broadband access to these less lucrative “last mile” areas first. We the underserved and not served will once again get left out in the cold indefinitely. Smart people learn from their past mistakes of others and themselves, and they learn from the successes of others, but not on this ship of fools as described so eloquently in Plato’s Republic.
Post-pandemic anyone without reliable internet is persona non-grata. Pesky charges for all sorts of services add up for those without internet. Fines, etc. for not acting upon information only sent to the online account you are supposed to have, accrue. Government programs and services, health care providers, etc., increasingly demand you access your account online and send you important messages via those accounts, and penalize you in many ways, if you do not have online access. Is this ok with you?
From what I can determine, H.360 and its companion bill is nothing more than another bridge to nowhere that is going to run out of money long before they get to your road or mine. In their current state these are patently inequitable and will serve to only widen the gulf between the haves and the have nots. Thus the real imperative is a path forward to rapidly deploy service to those who are either not served or underserved and not be forced to be further impoverished and hindered in many yet unknown ways while the years long plod toward an expensive perfect pie in the sky plan is realized. I would say that a good one now which is affordable is better than a perfect one in a decade that may be too expensive for many.
Therefore, Governor Scott, I urge you to veto H.360 before it’s too late.