In Vermont, the Push for Rural High-Speed Internet Grows

March 12, 2019 AT 7:20 AM

By Hilary Niles

It's a familiar scene in rural Vermont: Cars cluster after hours outside libraries or cafés that offer Wi-Fi – residents sponging internet service that they can't get at home. A mom brings her middle-schooler, who finishes his homework with notebooks and a laptop laid out in the back seat. An investor pulls up to do some online trading. People download movies to watch at home.

At the start of 2019, more than a quarter of Vermonters lived without service that meets the federal government's definition of broadband: at least 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds. An estimated 5.6 percent of addresses were considered underserved – with either 4/1 Mbps or nothing at all.

That's despite roughly $174 million in funding granted or loaned to Vermont Internet service providers in 2010 – by far the highest per capita funding for any state – as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service Broadband Initiatives Program, part of the federal stimulus package following the 2008 recession.

The program subsidized the cost of providing "last mile" service to addresses in sparsely populated places where commercial ISPs can't make enough profit to justify the expense of extending or upgrading service. Some of the funding also paid for "middle mile" coverage – high-speed data corridors from town to town.

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