FRANKLIN COUNTY — As the Northwest Communications Union District becomes more legitimate, hiring staff and landing grant money, Swanton Town, Swanton Village and St. Albans Town are joining the CUD, with hopes of bringing better broadband access in Franklin County.
NCUD Director Sean Kio visited selectboard and trustees meetings in each of the three towns this past week to present the vision of the CUD and a plan forward. All three municipalities got on board.
“We've gotten to the point where I think the idea of CUDs is a little more comfortable with communities,” Kio said at a press conference in Montpelier announcing grant money for the CUD Nov. 1. “It's just a matter of getting them up and providing them the information of what their need really is and what our direction is.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has extended the broadband divide, Kio said, with remote students and workers in underserved areas not being able to participate. The NCUD is aiming to close that gap.
Up until about two weeks ago, NWCUD was completely volunteer based. Kio, who has been spearheading the creation of NCUD since August 2020, became the first full-time employee when he was hired as director in October.
When the CUD was first starting to get its feet off the ground over a year ago, the communities that joined were those who were most in need, Kio said to the Swanton Village board of trustees Oct. 25. The original three were the towns of Enosburg, Montgomery and Fairfax.
Kio said now that the CUD has more direction as they begin to hire staff and gather data, it makes sense to expand, as the goal is to eventually serve the entire district.
Why did they sign on now?
Kio also said improving the fiber optic network in towns with already sufficient coverage could attract more providers, driving down costs.
“The biggest thing that I’ve seen is that when there is provider choice and they have to compete, that is what really drives down costs,” he said at the Swanton Village trustees meeting.
At the Nov. 1 press conference in Montpelier, attended by various state representatives, Gov. Phil Scott, Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Christine Hallquist, executive director of the Vermont Community Broadband Board, NCUD was awarded $604,376 to support hiring professional staff, operational expenses and administrative and legal services.
Membership in the CUD comes at no cost to the local taxpayer, Kio said at the Swanton Village trustees meeting. All money for the CUD comes from state and federal grants.
Swanton selectboard member Mark Rouchleau said when Kio first came and presented the idea of a CUD to the board around a year and a half ago, the board thought they should wait to get more information and understanding. But now that the pandemic has illuminated broadband issues, Rouchleau expressed his support.
“I think there’s a need,” Rouchleau said. “I live within the village and I don’t really have a problem, but I think there’s a lot of outskirts to Swanton that really could use the boost.”
Swanton Town and Swanton Village appointed Elizabeth Nance, Swanton’s economic development coordinator, to be a representative on the NCUD board for both municipalities.
Swanton Town administrator David Jescavage and Swanton Village manager Reg Beliveau are alternates.
The St. Albans Town selectboard unanimously voted to join the CUD at their Nov. 1 meeting.
“If I could vote, Sean [Kio], I’d be voting to join too,” Selectboard Chair Brendan Deso said.
The board delayed a vote on appointing a representative and alternate to the NCUD board with the intention to game plan a possible search for a qualified individual in the community.
By Alek Fleury at the St. Albans Messenger. Link to the original article here.