Why Vermont Has Gigabit Internet, And You Don't

Senior Contributor
04.29.13 8 Comments

Amid all the hype about Google Fiber, something we’ve contributed our fair share to, it’s easy to lose track of the fact that telephone companies and other wired networks are perfectly capable of stringing their own fiber cables to compete. They just generally choose not to.

Unless, apparently, they operate in the state of Vermont.

Wait, this is a joke, right? There’s no way a tiny New England state has better Internet service than any major metropolitan area.

Nope, not a joke. Although it’s currently only available for about fifteen out of several hundred interchanges in the state.

Who’s providing this high-speed Internet to dairy farmers?

Rural telephone provider VTel, which is so obscure, even most Vermonters know it best as the company that dumps a second copy of the Yellow Pages on their porch.

How the hell did a tiny rural telephony company get fiber gigabit Internet?

The short answer? Your tax dollars:

The company was able to afford the upgrades largely by winning federal stimulus awards set aside for broadband. Using $94 million in stimulus money, VTel has invested in stringing 1,200 miles of fiber across a number of rural Vermont counties over the past year.

So basically my taxes went to giving hicks Netflix?

To be fair, VTel’s system was out of date, with some of it dating back to the nineteenth century. It needed an overhaul, and really stringing fiber is the same as restringing copper wire, so why not spend the money now instead of asking for tax dollars later?

Why can VTel do this, but everybody else can’t be bothered?

The short answer is that VTel is small enough that it actually makes sense for the company to string fiber, and it’s actually far from alone in that respect. Many rural telephony providers are overdue for major infrastructural overhauls, and it makes little sense to string copper, at this point. It also makes them competitive with cable Internet, a service they’ve been losing customers to.

In short, the system works. Well, it works provided you don’t live in a major city. Did we mention VTel’s gigabit Internet is $35 a month?

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