Many people in Cavendish, including second homeowners, residents and visitors, complain about Internet and other telecommunication services. In September, we posted an article Cavendish Internet Problems Continues and now Cavendish Connects is documenting the extensiveness of the problem with an on-line survey. If you have not done so, you have until Nov. 30 to respond on-line.
A very common question is how and why did we end up in the predicament? To answer that question, below is an overview of the current situation:
• TDS Purchases Ludlow Telephone Company: When TDS purchased Ludlow Telephone Company, in the early 1980s, the federal government provided a subsidy to rural landline carriers so that between fees and the subsidy, TDS enjoyed a reasonable profit margin. With the arrival of cell phones and Internet in the 1990s, and their expansion in subsequent years, TDS’s profits plummeted.
• The Federal Government switches its backing from landlines to broadband: Recognizing that the future lay in wireless, cell and broadband, the federal government decided to take the rural carrier (landline) subsidy and reassign it to the development of broadband. To that end, VTel was awarded a $75 million federal grant to provide underserved areas of VT, by 2013, with wireless service, as well as to upgrade their landline users with high fiber optics. VTel serves 14 towns in southern VT. It wasn't long after this that TDS closed their Ludlow office.
• What this means for TDS Subscribers: TDS has lost significant market share and at this juncture, has no plans to provide the types of upgrades they are doing in other parts of the country because a) it’s very expensive, b) they have no subsidies and c) there is no financial incentive for them to do so. So what does that mean for TDS users?
- Because landlines are a regulated utility and TDS is the incumbent local exchange carrier (ILEC) for our area, they can’t leave without a) selling the service to another company and/or b) another company is providing service to the area.
- If you are having issues with your landline, because it is a regulated utility, call Vermont Telecommunications Authority (VTA) at 1-800-622-4496 and they can help you.
- The wiring for landline and Internet is copper based. Without proper maintenance, erosion of service will not be just Internet but also landline.
- Internet is not a regulated utility, so there is no leverage to force TDS to make the upgrades and repairs that are needed.
• Be Grateful for our TDS Service Team: Please note, the TDS service team in our area often goes above and beyond the call of duty to help people. Do not take your frustrations out on them for decisions that are beyond their control.
• VTel: VTel was given a two-year extension on their statewide wireless system. While the service is to be available statewide by 2015, in September, VTel’s Lead Wireless Specialist, Andrea Spaans stated that, there is no guarantee that the service when implemented will cover 100% of Cavendish. While some residents have been able to take advantage of the new wireless service, others have been told there is no room on the Mt. Ascutney Tower. On Nov. 17, there was a major failure on this tower. VTel has told their subscribers they will not be billed for November for the several days break in service.
• Comcast: Internet services are the bread and butter for this company, and they tend to limit themselves to locations with much higher property density. However, under the Certificate of Public Good, they are required to extend their service in certain circumstances. If you live in relatively close proximity to someone with Comcast, and you have called the company and been told no, contact the Vermont Telecommunications Authority’s Consumer Division, who can negotiate on your behalf. The toll free number to call is 1-800-622-4496.
• State Level: The State of VT now has a telecommunications plan that would essentially require high fiber optics to every VT address by the year 2024, when all Vermonters should have access to upload and download speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps). For comparison, TDS’s current fastest speed for our area is 15 Mbps, with many reporting speeds closer to 1. To understand more about the VT telecommunications plan and the future of Internet service in the state, read the VT Public Radio article Telecom Plan Raises Questions About Internet Service.
• Other changes at the state level include the phasing out of Vermont Telecommunications Authority by June 2015. Their function will be housed in the Vermont Department of Information and Innovation (DII).
• At the Federal Level: Obama wants broadband regulated by the FCC. If that happens, which won't occur without a major fight from Comcast and the other Internet franchises, the system could unfold similar to the rural electrification project of the 1930s and 40s. Potentially TDS and other landline carriers could benefit and have funds to provide high fiber optics.
So where does that leave us? As we’re learning from the survey, the lack of appropriate telecommunications is having a negative impact on our economic future. With the national business trend showing high growth in home business and telecommuters, Cavendish needs to take this issue very seriously, particularly as more than one respondent noted, The lack of adequate, reliable and reasonably-priced telecommunication services (internet and mobile) prevents us from moving to Cavendish full-time. I have a home-based business that requires me to be reliably on-line and available, and this is simply not possible in Cavendish.
While many hope VTel will be the answer, the wireless service is expensive and ultimately will not meet the eventual state standard. It’s at best a stop- gap measure, as what’s appears to be the long-term solution is high fiber optics.
Neither Cavendish nor Vermont is unique in their current telecommunications situation. It is frustrating to see how many other parts of the world are offering far better service at much cheaper prices. One solution continues to be put forth-municipal fiber. Basically, the town takes on the responsibility of designing a system that will work for them. Once such example in Vermont is EC Fiber, that is a coop of 24 towns, including Reading. Would this be an option for Cavendish?
Because of the critical importance of telecommunications, for a sustainable Cavendish, telecommunications must become a priority concern of the town.
If you have not taken the Cavendish Telecommunications survey, please take a few minutes and do so on-line.