The Vermont House voted 145-1 Tuesday to give initial approval to H.360 – the community broadband acceleration bill. The bill uses federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to make the most significant investment ($150 million) in state history toward delivering high-speed internet to every Vermonter.
If enacted, this VPIRG-supported legislation will make significant resources available to the state’s Communications Union Districts (CUDs) – public, municipal entities formed to provide universal, affordable, world-class broadband to their regions.
Notably, the legislation would 1.) direct $30 million toward a pre-construction grant program to provide these nascent entities with resources to quickly do the study, survey, planning and design work necessary to start building networks and 2.) establish a $120 million subordinated loan and construction grant program to complement the existing broadband loan program created in 2019 to fund the construction of critical broadband infrastructure.
Importantly, the bill builds on the efforts of the 2019 broadband law (Act 79) to bring greater accountability to state broadband investments. Under H.360, state investment in broadband would be under the purview of the Vermont Community Broadband Authority – a new entity designed to ensure coordination and accountability among community broadband solutions.
State incentives for broadband would only go to projects capable of achieving 100mbps symmetrical speeds and would only be available to Communications Union Districts, providers working directly in conjunction with CUDs, or, in communities that are not part of a CUD, to providers working directly with municipalities to bring true universal service to their coverage area.
By doing this, H.360 will foster collaboration between the CUDs and the private providers they will likely need to partner with to operate their networks. This legislation ensures that the CUDs can act as coordinating entities ensuring that every single address in their region receives access to high-speed internet.
VPIRG believes community-owned broadband networks are key to addressing Vermont’s connectivity issues. Because they don’t need to satisfy shareholders, community-owned networks are better able to provide universal service — reaching all the locations in their communities – even the ones that aren’t profitable.
Community-owned networks are also much more consumer-friendly than the giant telecoms. On average, they’re more-affordable and provide better speeds than large telecoms while prioritizing bedrock consumer protection principles like net neutrality and user privacy.
If enacted, H.360 would be the most consequential investment in community broadband the state has ever made.