Funding Application

Vermont stakeholders have collaborated on an application for $114 million in funding through the NTIA middle mile grant program.

If awarded, the funding would represent over 10% of the approximately $1 billion allotted to the program, which has proven to be a highly competitive one. NTIA said this week that it received 235 applications for middle mile funding totaling $5.5 billion.

Middle mile networks are defined as networks that interconnect communities. Although they don’t include last-mile connections to end user locations, they are a critical enabler of last-mile connectivity because end users need connectivity not only to their local community but also to the world beyond.

The Vermont Community Broadband Board (VCBB), which spearheaded the application for the state middle mile network funding over the last four months, offered details about the application in a press release today. Based on the release, stakeholders appear to have used a full court press approach to maximize the likelihood that funding will be awarded.

Vermont Middle Mile Funding Application

The $114 million in funding that the Vermont middle mile application requests would cover some of the costs of the proposed 1,663-mile fiber network. The governor’s budget proposal calls for the state to provide an additional $30 million. And another $16 million would come in cash and in-kind contributions from NEK Broadband, ECFiber and FirstLight.

According to the rules for the middle mile funding program, grantees must contribute at least 30% of network costs.

FirstLight is a competitive provider serving the Northeast. NEK Broadband and ECFiber are two of nine communications union districts (CUDs) in the state.

CUDs are groups of Vermont towns that have come together with the goal of constructing and operating local broadband networks. All nine CUDs were involved in the Vermont middle mile application, as were the state’s “major telecommunications companies,” according to today’s press release.

As Vermont Governor Phil Scott explained in the release, the middle mile network would connect CUDs to one another and to internet hubs beyond state borders. A successful middle mile grant application would reduce the need for the communities to go to the bond market, he said.

CUDs can raise money through bond offerings or grants but not taxes. 

“This network provides Vermont a once in a generation opportunity to build a comprehensive state-wide reliable and resilient backbone,” said Scott in the release.

FirstLight’s role in the project would be to leverage its existing open access network, the release said.

Source: Vermont DPS

According to the release, the requested funding would enable the CUDs to accelerate construction timelines, negotiate better bulk data rates and increase network resiliency.

Commercial network operators that helped develop the middle mile network plan included WCVT, Consolidated, VTel and VELCO, as well as FirstLight.

The middle mile network plan calls for the network to be managed by a new special purpose vehicle (SPV), “a separate legal entity with majority public control for the purpose of constructing, owning and operating the network composed of the CUDs and private partners providing indefeasible rights of use (IRUs) to their networks.”

Vermont has used SPVs previously for shared electric utility substations, the release notes.

NTIA plans to use a point system in making its middle mile award decisions.

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