Surprise! Goshen, Hancock now wired to wider world

GOSHEN/HANCOCK — Goshen residents last Thursday evening received some unexpected news: after years of waiting, their town was wired for broadband Internet service.

At a community broadband meeting at the Goshen Town Hall, FairPoint Communications representatives Beth Fastiggi and Sabina Haskell announced that, starting on Friday, town residents would be able to subscribe to high-speed Internet services.

And Fastiggi, vice president of FairPoint Communications in Vermont, said broadband coverage to parts of Hancock also went live that day.

Fastiggi said the news came as a surprise to Goshen residents in part because the company was unsure when the service would become available. Usually the company schedules a community broadband meeting in advance of the arrival of service to answer community questions about the timeline for service.

“We lucked out and were able to get that work done in time for the meeting,” said Fastiggi.

Since Goshen residents have been campaigning for broadband service to the town since 2007, fewer than 20 town residents showed up to the meeting, none expecting to hear the news that they would be able to sign up for broadband Internet right away.

“I’m happy, very happy,” said Jeff Cathcart, who with Patrice Lopatin has been pushing hard for Internet access for the past four years. The two found in 2008 that of 225 town residents polled, 200 said they would subscribe to broadband Internet service if it were available, and since then Cathcart and Lopatin have been in steady communication with FairPoint.

“People were very unhappy,” he said.

EXPANDING ACCESS

In 2007, then-Governor Jim Douglas passed the e-state law, which pledged to extend high-speed Internet availability and cell phone service to all Vermonters by the end of 2010. The Vermont Telecommunications Authority, which was set up by the e-state law to push for broadband and cell phone service, didn’t meet that first goal but said in its 2010 annual report that the state was on track to achieve universal broadband coverage in the state by 2013.

But significant gaps still remained in some areas of the state, notably in Goshen, Granville and Hancock. According to the VTA annual report, those towns were three of very few in central Vermont that almost entirely lacked download connection speeds of 768 kilobits per second (kbps) — the lowest speed offered by most high-speed Internet providers. The e-state law sets a benchmark of 1.5 megabits (mbps) per second, which is 1,500 kbps, while the average dial-up connection has a maximum capacity of 56 kbps. Most customers in Goshen who have Internet service are on either dial-up or satellite connections.

All three towns have low population densities and mountainous terrain, factors that provide little incentive for high-speed Internet service providers to build to those locations. Running fiber optic cable to carry an Internet connection is expensive, so providers tend to focus on areas where the cable will reach the most customers.

“The last few customers are the most capital intensive,” said Fastiggi back in Jan. 2010. “If we can reach 100 people, we’d rather do that than reach two people on top of a mountain.”

But the company has been working on a commitment to the state to bring broadband coverage to 100 percent of customers in half of its exchanges. The company had originally committed to reach that goal by December of 2010, but as part of its bankruptcy restructuring, the state Public Service Board granted the company a six-month extension. Fastiggi said the company now plans to reach 95 percent of its customers in half of its exchanges, with build-outs happening simultaneously in other exchanges as well.

She said the Public Service Board allowed the company to drop its commitment to 95 percent with the promise that any customer from the remaining 5 percent need only request service from FairPoint, and the company will connect that customer within 90 days.

“That way, if someone doesn’t want the service, we won’t have to build it to them,” said Fastiggi.

Fastiggi said that the exchange that serves Rochester and Hancock is not among the exchanges scheduled for complete coverage this year, but that the company was doing system upgrades in the area and decided to install a fiber optic line from Rochester to Hancock.

She explained that, for areas like Goshen and Hancock, the company uses a technology called ADSL, where it runs fiber optic cable to the nearest control box, then uses the currently existing copper phone lines to deliver the service from there. Thus, said Fastiggi, the customers closest to the central box may have a download speed of up to 15 mbps, while the customers furthest away will have a download speed closer to 1.6 mbps.

Granville remains without broadband coverage, while the build-out to Hancock only covers a portion of the town, mostly along main roads. And Fastiggi said a few Goshen residents may not be reached by the new system.

Still, the mood in the Goshen Town Hall following the news that high-speed Internet was available was festive.

“This is like the Easter bunny coming,” remarked one meeting attendee.

Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at andreas@addisonindependent.com.


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