Not All Internet Access is Created Equal

By Jeremy Hansen

While almost everyone in Central Vermont has access to some sort of internet service, the available speeds vary widely. Nearly every address has access to Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), which uses one or two existing copper phone lines to theoretically provide download (from the internet to the customer) speeds of up to 15 megabits per second (Mbps) and 2 Mbps upload (from the customer to the internet). Reality, however, is often different.

In Berlin, I don’t even get half of that at 7 Mbps download and 0.5 Mbps upload on two copper phone lines. Other people I’ve talked to in Northfield and Roxbury fare much worse and report maximum download speeds of 2 Mbps, which is not enough to stream reasonably good-quality video.

Most (but fewer than DSL) locations also have access to mobile broadband, but while speeds can be faster, the amount of data customers can download at these speeds is capped depending on how much they pay. Satellite coverage is also reasonably good, but in addition to having data caps, satellite internet access is not suitable for applications that require real-time audio or video, such as Skype or online gaming.

Lucky residents of Central Vermont who live in dense enough neighborhoods might also have access to Internet through their cable provider, which usually provides moderate download/upload speeds of 25/3 Mbps, and sometimes more.

The attached map shows how many buildings in each town have access to at least a 25/3 Mbps Internet connection. It’s clear that Montpelier and Barre City have almost complete coverage at this level, while the towns farther out have less access to even these moderate speeds. (Note that the data in the map only shows coverage for the member towns of Central Vermont Internet/CVFiber, so, for example, Elmore and Orange have data displayed but not Woodbury or Moretown.)

Why haven’t Internet Service Providers (ISPs) stepped up to offer a service that people clearly want? Again, it boils down to density. How much do the incumbent providers need to invest and how much profit are they going to get back out? Outside of denser populations in Montpelier or Barre, providers don’t see the profit margins they can achieve when building elsewhere. As a result, small towns are left unserved or underserved. In some places; however, efforts are underway to plug the gaps. In Brookfield, Braintree, and Granville, the publicly owned ISP ECFiber is installing fiber optic cables into virtually every building in those not-so-dense towns and 21 other towns, with speeds of up to 1000/1000 Mbps.

Knowing that building such a public network was possible, Central Vermont Internet (recently rebranded CVFiber) was founded in response to complaints about the availability of truly high-speed internet access here in Central Vermont. Because it is a democratically governed municipal entity itself, CVFiber doesn’t need to profit and can take advantage of funding that would be unavailable to a for-profit organization. We expect to start servicing our 16-member municipalities in the next few years. If you live in one of the member municipalities, keep an eye out for our interest survey that will help us decide where we’re going to build first. In the meantime, try to stay patient while your video is buffering.

Jeremy Hansen is founder and chair of CVFiber

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