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Can community-owned broadband systems work — and pay for themselves — in rural parts of the country? That’s the debate going on now in Vermont, as a coalition of 22 towns in four counties hope to build a fiber network that will serve nearly 50,000 people. The Burlington Free Press’ John Briggs had a good article over the weekend looking at the East Central Vermont Community Fiber Network, or EC Fiber for short.
EC Fiber has asked for $69 million in a federal broadband stimulus loan to help build a broadband fiber network to towns as small as 300. EC Fiber would run cable past 18,100 households on 37,000 utility poles. EC Fiber was established through an interlocal agreement among the 22 towns. The question is, will it work — which means, can EC Fiber make it financially? (Above, Jim Dague, a Granville road commissioner, supports his town’s participation in the EC Fiber project.)
The article explores this question. Briggs quotes an MIT professor who said fiber-to-home systems must hold start-up costs to no more than $3,000 per customer. EC Fiber is calculating that it will cost twice that to gain each new subscriber. The professor said a system needs about 50 subscribers per mile to break even, a rate that is rarely reached in that part of Vermont. The article is a very good dissection of a community-owned project, and the problems these system face in very rural places.