New Telecommunications Plan?

To the Editor:

Vermont finally has a newly adopted Ten Year Telecommunications Plan, the first since 2004, non-compliant with statute on nearly every count, and based on the erroneous assumptions that most business users and public safety communications needs are in “pretty good shape.”

We can all thank Governor Scott, Matt “the fraud” Dunne/RISI, CTC Technology and Engineering and the corrupt, incompetent Public Service Department for our broadband quagmire and derailed public safety communications resilience trajectory.

The non-plan undermines Vermont’s long overdue progress toward important statutory goals of open access, competitive choice, ubiquitous mobile wireless, and ignores necessary interim fixed wireless broadband, integrated planning, transparency, accountability, 911 reliability /call delivery assurance, storm resiliency, cost effective use of VELCO and electric distribution utilities’ fiber assets. …Need I go on?

The non-plan suggests that Communications Union Districts be free to negotiate away or around statutory goals and policies in favor of “public-private partnerships” with for-profit telecommunications carriers. How blatant can the illegality of this non-plan document get?

The plan includes no strategy for reaching all the tens of thousands of existing cable monopoly addresses now delivering 25/3Mbps service with competitive, future proof fiber, despite our statutory goal requiring building 100/100Mbps fiber speed service to every E911 address in Vermont by 2024!

The statutes defining Vermont’s telecommunications goals and plan requirements specifically state that each of the goals be addressed in the plan. The Department, the Commissioner, the legislature’s oversight committees - and the Governor, have simply ignored this fundamental and fatal flaw of the so-called plan, in effect protecting the cable monopolies in those customer-dense, (profitable) served areas.

The statute requires an “effective public participation process,” best exemplified by both the first and last of the required public hearings having zero persons in attendance, with the other hearings having only a handful of participants. There were no printed copies of the 300+page document made available for detailed study, nor were transcripts made of the public hearing, as has been the practice in all years prior. Public Access Community Media Centers were also required to be involved and coordinated with in assuring public participation. They too were ignored by the Department and RISI.

Most of the informed, specific and precision written public comments were swept aside by the Department, claiming that the issues of storm resiliency, pole clutter, interim service until fiber can be built, public safety radio and microwave to be little more that the equivilent of “cant see it from my house”.

Now that’s a sure-fire way to encourage public participation going forward!

The Committees of jurisdiction over PSD/PUC and telecommunications, being House Energy and Technology, chaired by Tim Briglin, and Senate Finance, chaired by Ann Cummings, flagrantly abdicated their oversight obligations and swept the plan’s and Commissioner’s gross deficiencies under the rug in their mad scramble to blow $200M on non-competitive internet, pander to the CUD experiments absent any unified strategy or plan.

All this was done without prerequisite necessary decisions on Active vs. Passive Fiber architectures, statewide resiliency design requirements, neutral host cellular in-fill strategy and lead agency, competitive choice for consumers, and cost effective use of existing infrastructure, by recommending an open access rulemaking, as well as an existing fiber and pole inventory be ordered or compiled by the PUC.

The Department blatantly ignored the advice and formal requests of the statutory Telecommunications and Connectivity Advisory Board, whose specific duty it is to advise the Commissioner on the telecommunciations plan. The Board had requested a table of specific linkages be included in the plan detailing precise links between statutory plan requirements and plan sections that addressed those requirements. The adopted plan contains none of the requested improvements as those would certainly have served to highlight the p!an’s many deficiencies!

The Governor and his immediate staff have remained intentionally uninformed on these issues, instead deferring to the Department with a thirty year history of ignoring the statute and intentionally undermining sound telecommunications planning in favor of incumbent corporate interests.

This ostrich approach being in direct conflict with the Governor’s oft-espoused values of listening to other side, even contrary points of view, and let the best ideas prevail. Instead, the Governor is choosing to continue to cover for the Admininstration’s inept team, no matter how incompetent, outlaw, purjury or deceit, and might be hoping to blame the near certain train wreck on the other party.

Scott’s politically attractive concept of holding the line on new taxes and fees is deceptive. This sleight of hand masks a false economy as it hides the true, and much greater long term costs of failed or incomplete planning, missed opportunities and resulting substandard education, telemedicine, civic engagement and economic development based on reliable broadband, all being the results of decades of failed telecommunications planning. This is not savings, but penalties.

We will likely not have available this scale of federal support for broadband buildout again in our lifetime. Broadband, electric & communications resiliency, 911 call assurance and emergency preparedness are way too important to be playing politics with, rewarding monopolists and campaign donors, while risking Vermonters’ lives and property, damaging “faith and trust in government,” or future prosperity, especially when the Governor and legislators are gambling with this once in a lifetime financial opportunity to get it done right.

Stephen Whitaker

Montpelier, Vt.

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