State rolls out broadband access grant program

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MONTPELIER — The state Department of Public Service has launched a grant program providing up to $3,000 in federal coronavirus aid to consumers to help extend reliable internet service to underserved homes.

The Line Extension Customer Assistance Program, announced Wednesday, was approved by the Vermont Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Phil Scott as Act 137 on July 2. The $2 million grant program is part of a bill appropriating $213.2 million in federal CARES Act funds for broadband connectivity, information technology, housing, and economic relief expenses related to the pandemic.

"We know how important access to reliable internet has been during this pandemic," Scott said in a statement announcing the program on Wednesday. "While expanding access has been a longstanding challenge in Vermont, I appreciate the efforts of the Public Service Department team, the Legislature and many private partners to help get more Vermonters connected. This assistance program is another step forward in this challenging work, which is critical to increasing equity in education heading into our school reopening this fall."

According to the Department of Public Service website, the LECAP program is available to Vermonters who can demonstrate a COVID-19-related need (such as remote learning or a telehealth network), lack a minimum service speed of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) for download and 3 Mpbs for upload broadband internet service, and are "near net" for a cable video provider or other internet service provider.

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The conditions of CARES Act funding included that any work be completed by the end of the 2020 calendar year, meaning the program carries a completion deadline of Dec. 30.

Clay Travis, a spokesman for the Department of Public Service, said he did not have an average cost for the work, because it varies greatly depending on factors such as distance and housing density.

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"With that said, we have heard from many consumers who have estimates ranging from $1,000-$3,000," Purvis said. "We are targeting folks who are 'near net' to existing infrastructure, and need some assistance getting the line extended to their houses."

If every successful applicant used the full $3,000 credit, the program would help 666 residents, Purvis said.

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Consumers must request the line extension from the appropriate service provider and also apply for the financial assistance program from the Department of Public Service.

Approval will be based on need, cost-effectiveness, and site-appropriateness of the line extension, the department said on its website. Payments from this program will be made by the department directly to the service provider on behalf of the consumer.

"For the teacher or student living at the end of the dirt road with no internet access, the LECAP could be a lifeline," said June Tierney, the state commissioner of public service. "This is a great opportunity for qualifying Vermonters who need broadband service but have not been able to afford the full cost of a line extension."

For details about how to qualify for the LECAP, Vermonters should call the department at 800-622-4496 or visit the Department of Public Service website.


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