Cavendish looks to solve internet discrepancies throughout the town

The March 14 Cavendish Selectboard meeting heard from Margo Caulfield, who described the state of telecommunications and internet service in the Cavendish area. Photo provided

CAVENDISH, Vt. – During the Cavendish Selectboard meeting on March 14, discussion turned to telecommunications; specifically, on-going cellphone and internet coverage in town.

Cavendish resident Margo Caulfield, who has worked many years to address internet concerns in the town, distributed a document to the board and updated the town on current internet coverage and options for those who are still either underserved or not served at all, which Caulfield has calculated as approximately 8% of Cavendish’s 969 addresses.

According to her document, most of Cavendish, 78%, have access to Comcast, who provide internet through cable; 87% of the town is covered by TDS, with approximately 20% of the town having TDS as their only option; 6% of the population is underserved with speeds of less than 25/3; and 2% have no service, primarily in an area of town covered by Consolidated Communications, a landline only service that offers no internet option. Also, VTel wireless is used by a few addresses, often as a backup serviced to TDS.

Caulfield said that, although home sales and value in town have recently been high, “try selling a house with very poor internet.”

The State’s most recent initiative, the Critical Communications Infrastructure Program, has set aside $51.5 million to set up 100 cell towers in an attempt to reach unserved wireless areas, improving cell service and data coverage in Vermont. Caulfield said that this will help when traveling, but less so for home use.

In 2021, the VT Community Broadband Board was established with $150 million to help coordinate broadband throughout the state. A limiting factor in this program, according to Caulfield, is that the program wants to function primarily through CUDs, or Communication Union Districts, and according to Caulfield, they will only pay for fiber and don’t want to pay for Comcast, essentially freezing Comcast out of application for those funds. TDS, who can apply for that funding, has decided that they would initially expand fiber first to the densest populations, keeping those who are most in need, still waiting.

As an alternative, Caulfield asked the board if they could find out what it would cost to have Comcast extend their cable service, and perhaps see what funding might be used to help with those costs, including use of some of the town’s ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) money. She went on to say however, that even with that, “there are some properties, I don’t know how we’re going to get to them.”

Cavendish and Weathersfield State Representative John Arrison, who attended the meeting said that he, along with the Weathersfield town manager had met with representatives from TDS recently and according to TDS, they are beginning to build their entire system out with fiber starting this summer. Caulfield added that it would be the most populated areas first and that prior efforts to see results had taken seven years, although she did say both TDS and Comcast had been helpful getting the northeastern part of the town wired in the past.

The Cavendish Town Meeting is scheduled for Monday, March 28 at Cavendish Town Elementary School, either in-person or via Zoom, with voting by Australian ballot on the following day, Tuesday, March 29 from 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. at the Proctorsville Fire Station. The Zoom link for town meeting will be posted on the town’s website.

With spring on its way, Town Manager Brendan McNamara said the restoration of the old town garage site was going to be one of his top priorities and that he hoped to turn it into a park area. He will be working with regional planning, Cavendish Streetscapes, and the Cavendish roadcrew to make sure the site is suitable and will be soil testing soon. Anyone interested in volunteering for the project should contact the town office.

McNamara is in process of updating speeding ordinances and documenting roads in town with a plan to have a draft to the Board by next meeting.

McNamara is looking to have the Town Office driveway paved and will be sending out an RFP soon. In addition to the Class 2 Paving Grant the Town is slated for, he also wants to look at several Class 3 roads that need paving including Whitesville Road and High Street.

The next Cavendish Select Board meeting is scheduled for Monday, April 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the Cavendish Town Office.

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