Southern #Vermont Economy & Connectivity events

Please share this information and I hope you will attend any events that can fit into your schedules.

Southern Vermont Economy Zone CEDS: Windham and Bennington County are fast approaching the finalization of a plan to grow the economy which over 700 of our fellow Southern Vermonters have contributed to. You can read more about that process here, and there are public meetings across Southern Vermont tomorrow and Thursday.

Consolidated hearing: There are significant telecommunications events happening in Southern Vermont in the coming month – one is a hearing by the Public Utility Commission on Consolidated Communications.  After a significant increase in repair and new service complaints this summer, the Department of Public Service petitioned for an  investigation to be conducted. There will be two hearings statewide – one in Readsboro at the school on November 26th starting at 6:30 and another in St Albans at BF Academy on December 6th at 6:30. Please share this information with your neighbors and ask them to attend or file comments with the PUC on case #18-3231 if they have experienced a service quality or new installation issue. It seems likely that Vermont’s policymakers are not aware of the extent of the service quality issues, or the results of the billions of dollars of deferred maintenance. While we all want to see more internet and cellular service, unreliable land line phone service in areas without cell or internet poses significant dangers for vulnerable populations and public safety.

Connectivity Summit: The Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation’s Southern Vermont Economy Project has organized a 2nd Annual Southern Vermont Connectivity Summit.The event will take place at the Grand Summit in Dover, VT from 1pm-4pm on Friday November 30th. This event is geared towards town manager, town administrators, select board members and town organized committees but is free and open to interested members of the public. Content is structured to assist communities or groups of communities in improving their overall connectivity through planning and collaboration. Sarah Lang is the SVEP Manager and can be reached at slang@brattleborodevelopment.com or 802-257-7731 ext. 222

CEDS times of public input follow: 

Brattleboro Public Input
Wednesday November 14, 2018 | 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM EDT
Education Conference Center * Brattleboro Retreat * Brattleboro

Bellows Falls Public Input
Wed November 14, 2018 | 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM EDT
Lower Theater * 7 Square * Town of Rockingham, VT 05101

Wilmington Public Input Session
Thursday November 15th, 2018   |  8:00 AM – 10:00 AM EDT
Old School Library  *   School Street  *   Wilmington, VT 05363

Bennington Public Input Session
Thursday November, 15th 2018 | 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM EDT
Masonic Lodge * 504 Main Street * Bennington, VT 05201

Manchester Public Input Session
Thursday November 15th, 2018  |   6:00 PM – 8:00 PM EDT
Manchester Town Hall   *  6039 Main Street  *   Manchester, VT 05255

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Rep. Sibilia: Voting, PUC hearings on Consolidated Communications

Good evening/morning,
Election day is Tuesday, November 6th. You must be registered to vote in the town you currently reside in. In Vermont you can register the day of the election. Information on Vermont’s voting laws is available on the Secretary of State’s website.
This year, we have contested elections for U.S. Senator, U.S. Congress, Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Treasurer, Auditor and State Senate. I am running uncontested for re-election to represent you in the House of Representatives and ask for your vote. You may write in a name for any office. Just about every election in Vermont we are reminded that the individuals vote counts a lot. Many races have been won with one or two votes and a number of statewide elections have not resulted in a candidate receiving a majority of the votes and required the legislature to choose the winner. Please vote!
Dover Town Hall                              7:00 AM
Readsboro Central School            10:00 AM
Searsburg Town Clerks Office     10:00 AM
Stamford Elementary School          8:00 AM
Wardsboro Town Office                  9:00 AM
Whitingham Municipal Center     10:00 AM
All polls close at 7:00 PM
Results will be posted as they come in at the Secretary of State’s elections results web page.
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Consolidated Communications hearings
 
Southern Vermont: READSBORO November 26th 
Northern Vermont: SAINT ALBANS December 6th
Time and locations TBD 
 
The Vermont Department of Public Service has petitioned the Vermont Public Utilities commission for an investigation into the service quality provided by Consolidated Communications, Inc. In seeking the investigation, the Department noted that the number of consumer complaints received from Consolidated customers related to service outages between July and September of 2018 has increased by 2,760% over the same period in the previous year and that the number of complaints related to installation delays between July and September of 2018 has increased 500% over the same period in 2017. The Department has been conducting an informal inquiry into the complaints and Consolidated is cooperating with the inquiry.
Please share: I personally have received multiple reports of elderly, handicapped or geographically isolated customers safety having been compromised by service quality issues (5 and 10 day repair times for instance). It is important for state regulators to understand the magnitude of the service quality challenges. If you have experienced poor quality telephone service, lengthy repair or installation times please consider testifying in person or you can provide testimony online at the Vermont Public Utility Commission Online Portal for case #18-3231-PET
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Act 46 news 
The State Board of Education has recently accepted the Secretary of Education recommendations for the Searsburg and Stamford Interstate District Alternative Structure proposals. Many many thanks for the countless hours both groups have put forward on behalf of their students and taxpayers in order to fulfill their districts obligations under Act 46.
Congratulations to the new River Valleys Unified School District board  for their recent award from BCTV: Municipal Partner of the Year.

“River Valleys Unified School District Board was created last summer following the unification of Dover and Wardsboro School Districts under Act 46. The River Valleys USD Board turned to BCTV to video its bi-weekly meetings as a way to engage and provide transparency. And, in fact, thanks to the board’s promotional efforts, most of the meetings have received hundreds of views.

‘It’s gratifying to get so many views, and critical that those who can’t attend can get the full flavor of the somewhat complex process,” said Board Chair Richard Werner. “In addition, it’s been a benefit to all of us to be able to review the videos as work progresses.'”

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Open enrollment period is November 1 through December 15th more info 
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Highlights from this summer/fall
 
Ditch School in Wardsboro with Gary Urbanati
 
Readsboro meeting w/Agency of Digital Services & Department of Public Service
 

Community forums in Wardsboro, Dover, Readsboro and Stamford & healthcare forum in Whitingham

Toured Great River Hydro Facilities 

Attended dedication of 
Gold Star Families Memorial
State Board of Education Act 46 Alternative Structures Hearing
 
Grew a contender for World’s Smallest Gilfeather Turnip


A Historic Gathering of Independents at the #UniteSummit
Attended and spoke at: A Historic Gathering of Independents at the #UniteSummit in Denver


Listened to this excellent VPR Podcast series on Jack Sawyer and Vermont’s gun debate


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These posts have been made to my website and to social media since the end of the 2018 session

 Opportunity: #Vermont Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) program

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Please stay engaged and stay in touch via email lhsibilia@gmail.com or phone 802-384-0233. If you’d like to receive updates from my blog as they are posted please check out www.laurasibiliavt.com.
Laura
Rep. Laura Sibilia
State Representative
Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, Whitingham

The entire telecommunications industry is suing #Vermont for taking action on #NetNeutrality

The lawsuit follows below.

The question is whether or not Vermont’s governor and legislature are federally preempted from taking action on issues of connectivity as it relates to the Net Neutrality issue.

The House Committee in Energy and Technology on which I serve spent much of the last session working on this legislation.

www.americancable.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/181018-Complaint-with-Exhibits-1-5-ECF-Stamped.pdf

More on rural phone service and Readsboro telephone meeting

Many thanks to the Town Clerk’s Office, Selectboard, Schoolboard, Codogni Plumbing and Readsboro Broadband Committee member Omar Smith for making themselves available in the middle of the day to talk with the Secretary of Digital Services John Quinn and the Commissioner of Public Services June Tierney.  The pair were in Bennington County for Governor Scott’s Cabinet for a Day program and asked to come meet and listen to what has been going on with phone service in one of our isolated towns.

VTDigger posted a story on rural communications issues last week which you can find here. I’m relieved to find no one willing to defend 10 day repair times for folks who only have a land line phone, but that doesn’t actually solve the problem many have been facing.  Please make sure to report outages or poor quality connections to your telephone company right away and stay in touch if you experiencing troubles getting a timely repair. In the short term an investigation and possibly work to change rules which impact repair times in rural areas may provide some immediate relief – but the big picture long term is going to require us to consider Vermont’s entire telecommunications system and providers to ensure reliability for all.

      

Time to eliminate the Venn of Doom

“By the 1930s nearly 90% of U.S. urban dwellers had electricity, but 90% of rural homes were without power. Investor-owned utilities often denied service to rural areas, citing high development costs and low profit margins. Consequently, even when they could purchase electricity, rural consumers paid far higher prices than urban consumers.” – from the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives  Research on the Economic Impact of Cooperatives

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Vermont has state-of-the-art communication technologies. We have cell service throughout much of our state and wireless internet solutions in areas where the topography works. We have middle mile fiber, cable and dsl that connects residents and businesses to the global economy, their doctors and public safety and even provides phone service through VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocols).  Modern life is possible in much of Vermont. Still it’s no secret that access to wired and wireless phone and internet is unevenly available in the Green Mountain state. What may not be as widely known is that in some of the most rural parts of Vermont this situation is not static, it’s deteriorating. We have a negative relationship of conditions which has developed; a Venn diagram of doom if you will.

An early morning call from one of my constituents this summer drove this point home. She lives in a community which is almost exclusively limited to dial up or satellite for internet, sadly VTel’s federally taxpayer funded wireless network is still not available in her town. The only cell service in her town, CoverageCo limited 2G, is non operational and has been for some time.  She recently had serious surgery and is also handicapped. It takes over 30 minutes to get the State Police to her town, at least 30 minutes for an ambulance assuming a volunteer and driver are able to respond immediately and the hospitals are 30 minutes away (when the roads are open and not closed with snow accidents or washed out roads). She called because her landline phone line was not working and the repair date she was given – more than a week – had her worried for her safety.

This summer I received an unusually high number of complaints about phone service repairs and installations. There has been a corresponding increase in complaints about repair times to the Public Utility Commission which regulates landline telephone service and other public utilities like electricity.  Because of this, it would not surprise me to see an investigation opened up and action taken against the rural landline telephone provider. The irony here is the regulated landline telephone provider is the ONLY provider required to supply service to those Vermonters who reside at the intersection of the “Venn of Doom” – the place where no cell service, no internet service, and long distances from emergency response and emergency healthcare meet.

Vermont – and all other state’s – have limited ability to regulate the build out of wireless (cell service) and wired internet (cable) due to federal preemption. These for profit providers compete in an extremely dynamic marketplace, with rapidly innovating technologies, in Vermont’s densely populated areas. They compete with each other and they also compete with the regulated telephone providers who must provide service and repairs of critical infrastructure to all Vermonters, not just those they can make a profit selling a high end product to. Guess which type of provider is losing landline customers in the easy – and cost effective to provide service to – densely populated service areas? Guess who still has to provide essential telephone service even when they lose landline customers? Guess who Vermont can penalize for poor service or lack of coverage?

This declining situation is not acceptable.  My colleagues in the legislature have heard me declare more then once that we aren’t just going to roll up rural Vermont and put it away – real people, families, students and businesses live there. Real businesses and towns are unable to participate in Vermont’s economy and services. We have allowed a situation to develop that is increasing risk and vulnerability in rural Vermont.

The time for patiently waiting for this situation to improve has passed. Concerns about vulnerable rural Vermonters landline access have been communicated to the Public Service Department. An RFP to find a provider to replace the CoverageCo cell service has recently been released – which is important to many towns and schools in our district. These short term actions will help. But going forward we need a shift in how we think about telecommunication access and the market for communication products, who is responsible for ensuring critical infrastructure is accessible everywhere in our state, we are going to need to develop a plan for empowering communities or regions to manage and finance connectivity expansions. In each of the last two bienniums the House has overwhelmingly passed funding measures to address parts of this challenge – we will need our Senate colleagues to join us in this next biennium. In the administration we need the DPS to have more resources and partners trying to solve this public safety, education, healthcare access, economic issue. As a state, and with our private sector providers, Vermont must take a long hard look at the regulatory structures that have produced this outcome and ensure our regulatory environment going forward supports reliable affordable essential communications infrastructure availability for all Vermonters.

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