Vt. broadband leaders push for extension to challenge FCC coverage map

Many Vermonters don’t have access to adequate broadband but a recent FCC map rendition claims the state is 98% covered.
Published: Dec. 20, 2022 at 6:08 AM EST
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RIPTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Many Vermonters don’t have access to adequate broadband but a recent FCC map rendition claims the state is 98% covered. The state is hoping people to refute this claim, saying Vermont is missing out on millions of need-based dollars granted to improve connectivity.

The Vermont Community Broadband Board said they believe there are more than 20,000 inaccurate services reported in Vermont’s section of the FCC map.

“The map is based on internet service providers’ self-reporting. So they are telling us they see what they’re providing. And we’re not saying anyone is doing anything wrong, but it may be overstated,” said Herryn Herzog with Vermont Community Broadband Board.

The small town of Ripton is a community of 258 residential properties, where connectivity is a struggle.

In Ripton, the FCC map shows lots of green dots that indicate adequate fixed broadband data.

But the state map looks different. Gray dots make up the majority of the map, indicating a slower download speed than what the state considers adequate, 25/3 Mbps. Off-pink dots on the map indicate residences that lack even that.

“My wife is an educator and trying to do during COVID trying to do all these meetings she had to do on the broadband, it didn’t work, it was just ridiculous,” said Tim Price of Ripton.

The town said a local company recently provided service but has since stopped. Now some residents aren’t covered or are covered by Consolidated Communications or another small company.

Maple Broadband, the area’s communication union district, is scheduled to start building out broadband in Ripton in 2023 or 2024.

“The state is made up mostly of little towns. And if those little towns don’t have the opportunity to thrive, and that’s one way that they thrive, in the long run. It’s going to impact the entire state,” Ripton Selectboard Chair Laurie Cox said.

Cox said the town’s journey to getting connected has been long. She said many townspeople come by the town office to use their hot spot, or go to Middlebury.

“I would hope that at this point the state is starting to have a pretty good sense. They knew that there were part huge parts of the state that were underserved. So it just seems to me they should be able to make a relatively clear and powerful statement that there’s inaccuracy there,” said Cox.

The Vermont Community Broadband board says they’re working on disputing the FCC map on a statewide level to try to get as much funding as possible. But they also say Vermonters can dispute their own property reports in this effort, too.

“The difference between millions of dollars. The state gets $100 million in federal dollars but there’s a lot more money that we could get based on need. So if the map shows that we don’t need any more money, we’re not going to get any more money,” said Herzog.

Residents interested in disputing the FCC map have until Jan. 13, 2023, to do so. But Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch are joining the State Broadband Board at a press conference Wednesday to ask for a 30-day extension to that deadline. Disputes to coverage on the FCC map can be filed on their website.