Fiber-Optics? Not in Bethel!

You’ve got to love it when the presenter of a proposal to bring telephone, television, and high-speed Internet access at a fraction of the cost of current providers’ services (in places where they are even available) asks “does anyone not want to see these services available?”

And one person, in the approximately 35 assembled, raises his hand. And he’s the Town Manager of Bethel.

That’s what happened at the November 6 presentation by the East Central Fiber Network board in Bethel. While I respect having questions or even not understanding the project in its entirety (as the presentation, while elementary, is not always clear), you could not ask for a better illustration of what’s wrong with this town.

Prior to this meeting, I had reported to Town Manager Cloud via phone and mail, and to Selectmen Neal Fox and Eric Benson in person at a local business meeting, and informed them of the details of the project which had been made clear at a special meeting in October. (See previous blog post). At the meeting, the Selex said that the proposal sounded good.

This week, the Bethel Selex met and discussed, among other things, the ECFiber.net proposal. Their reactions included the following, as reported by the Herald of Randolph:

  • Town Manager Dell Cloud “expressed doubts about the projects legality.” Selectman Eric Benson “seemed to concur with Cloud’s concerns.”

I wonder what their doubts are, and why fifteen other towns who want to do this don’t seem to share his concerns, at least, not enough to stop them from signing on.

  • Chairman Neal Fox said “I can’t tell you I fully understood it.”

I can’t tell you that this surprises me, for a couple of reasons. To this end, I would strongly recommend that Chairman Fox does more research, or appoints someone who does understand the technical and legal aspects of this proposal so that he can make an informed decision.
Note: This person should not be Town Manager Cloud, as he has not displayed any more of a grasp of technology than Chairman Fox. Also note that, at the Town Manager’s request, it was I who attended an October presentation by the ECFiber.net folks, and I reported back to him and the Selex that the proposal has strong merit and should be adopted. This seems to have been ignored completely.

  • “Benson and Richards expressed concern that the rates quoted might actually be much higher…”

ECFiber’s proposal says that for approximately $50/mo, they could provide 1Mbps Internet access, $0.02/min local and $0.05/min long distance telephone, and 20 television stations. This project is modeled after the successful offerings of Burlington Telecom, who, according to their web site, currently offers the following:

    • Local calling plan ($0.02/$0.05): $25/mo
    • 20 cable TV channels: $16/mo
    • 1Mbps Internet: $17/mo

These are rates for basic service, without any package discounts. Add them up and you get $58/mo (not counting state, local, and federal taxes, where applicable). Okay, at my house*, I currently pay $69/mo for satellite Internet. I maintain an additional telephone line for dialup Internet access (~$40/mo). I pay approximately $55/mo for our main telephone line. Because I can use my work dialup Internet account, I am not paying for dialup Internet access separately. Regardless, take these numbers and add them up and you’ll see I am paying around $165 a month, and we don’t even get television service.

Even if ECFiber’s proposal was to be triple what they propose, it would be a tremendous upgrade because the service would be available, and I would still not be paying any more than I do now. Most residents of Bethel do not have access to high speed Internet. Those that do must suffer the horrid customer service and policies of Verizon and Comcast. People in remote areas, where Verizon and Comcast have no plans of ever offering service, must endure the pleasures of satellite or dialup Internet access, neither of which is suitable to many current applications.

  • Fox said “Wow! It’s coming so fast. Can it be true? It makes me skeptical.”

Their timeframe may be aggressive, but that is no reason to discount it outright.

  • “Richards expressed great skepticism that the group could really have a solid warning in place for town meetings in March…”

As explained by ECFiber, the warning is not even a requirement, as the town officials can engage in this contract without town approval. However, everyone seems to think that it would be a good idea, and I concur that democracy in action is a good thing.

Now, I fully understand and appreciate having questions and wanting them answered before signing off on something. That is prudent and wise. However, remember that, despite all of these concerns listed above, fifteen surrounding area towns have given the go-ahead for this plan to take place. What we appear to be seeing here is outright rejection of a proposal to advance the state of technology in this town, for no good reason. The Town Manager’s initial reaction and the Select Board’s responses clearly seem to indicate that they are not just skeptical, but hostile to the idea simply because they lack information. I can understand rejecting something once you have your questions answered, but to reject it prior to getting said questions answered is simply irresponsible and immature.

It really makes you appreciate how fortunate Bethel residents and businesses are to have these four in power to keep us safe from such advancements in technology. I pity those in surrounding areas that will be saddled with the burden of affordable television, telephone, and high-speed Internet to every house.

Please feel free to share your comments here, or at the forum we have set up at http://bethelvt.com/forum.

* Note that I currently reside in Gaysville, not Bethel. However, the reliable, high-speed Internet and cable television offerings are the same as they were at my rural house in Bethel: non-existent.

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