By David Healy and Rebecca Schrader
The lack of high-speed internet is having a negative impact on Central Vermont housing sales. According to Janel Johnson, a realtor with Coldwell Banker Classic Properties, “Buyers are frequently asking where high-speed internet exists. If there are two houses in a rural town, they will only want to look at the one that has high-speed internet. It is now seen as a basic, non-negotiable utility in a household, regardless of whether the homeowner works out of the house or not.”
According to data from the Vermont Department of Public Service, 52 percent of homes in Central Vermont towns (excluding Barre City, Barre Town, and Montpelier) have less than adequate internet speeds—less than 25 Mbs download/3 Mbs upload internet service. For the most part, they are also stuck with less than adequate DSL service.
How do those numbers translate to what people experience in their homes? “Mbs” is megabits per second, while files are typically measured in megabytes (MB). One megabyte equals 8 megabits, so if you have a 1-Mbs download speed, it will take 8 seconds to download a 1 MB file. For streaming purposes, Netflix recommends 5 Mbs download speed for HD video.
You also need to keep in mind that those recommendations are per stream, so if you have multiple users in the home, you need the recommended bandwidth per user for things to work at their peak. Additionally, the speed you’re sold by the provider isn’t necessarily the speed you’re experiencing. Performance will vary depending on other demands on the network (other households, businesses, schools, etc.), the quality of your hardware, and the infrastructure your provider has.
This condition also impacts the viability of our small communities, local businesses, schools, and other amenities. If it takes longer to sell a house without access to high-speed internet, this forces the homeowner to reduce the asking price in order to sell it more quickly. The lack of high-speed internet also puts an extra burden on children who are expected to use the internet to research, take classes online, and upload their class projects.
Last year, 16 Central Vermont communities voted to form a Communications Union District, Central Vermont Internet (doing business as CVFiber) to address this problem, due to frustration with current internet service providers and the view that bringing fiber to every home is the 21st century’s version of bringing electricity to every home. CVFiber is planning to complete a feasibility and cost study this year and hopes to begin a pilot project at the end of 2020. Full implementation takes time, so homeowners and buyers will not see immediate change. A complete buildout to all 16 towns will most likely take until 2026.
CVFiber estimates the investment for full buildout will be $30 million dollars. Since it will have to go to the municipal bond market for financing, the district will need to show the lenders that they have sufficient subscribers to pay back the loan.
Rebecca Schrader is the clerk and treasurer of CVFiber and lives in East Montpelier; David Healy is the Calais representative to the CVFiber Board.