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Vermont-based ValleyNet Inc. CEO Carole Monroe (center) meets with members of Carroll County Broadband on Thursday morning at Tamworth Town Hall. Left, Pat Farley of Lakes Region Planning Commission and Carroll County Broadband Co-chairman Steve Knox. (DAYMOND STEER PHOTO)

TAMWORTH — A group working to bring faster and better internet to Carroll County has been awarded a federal grant to create plans to make that happen.

Carroll County Broadband, through the North Country Council, along with three partner organizations (CTC Technologies in Maryland, and Rural Innovative Strategies and ValleyNet, both in Vermont) were awarded a $250,000 USDA Rural Community Development Initiative grant to do feasibility studies and/or develop business plans to bring fiber-based broadband internet to several communities in the Eastern United States including Carroll County. The announcement came earlier this month.

“This grant is going to provide for a feasibility study and high-level business planning for Carroll County Broadband so we can be prepared to look at USDA funding (eventually) for construction,” said ValleyNet Inc. CEO Carole Monroe in an interview with the Sun Thursday morning.

Monroe said construction could begin in a couple years and the funding could come from other places as well. “There is a long process,” she said.

Bringing fiber-based internet to Carroll County would provide the high-speed internet connections needed for businesses to thrive and people to work from home. It would also make it possible for patients access to tele-medicine services and would make internet research easier for students and library patrons.

ValleyNet, CTC Technologies and Rural Innovative Strategies put up matching funds of $250,000 for the project.

Carroll County Broadband is co-chaired by Albany Selectman Rick Hiland and resident Steve Knox. Most Carroll County towns, including Conway, have a representative in the group.

Hiland and Knox issued a statement on Thursday saying they are “excited that all the hard work of the committee over the past nine months has paid off and has been successful.”

The pair noted: “The committee will now be able to participate in a feasibility study/financial business plan for all 18 towns and one unincorporated town in  Carroll County at no cost to the individual towns. This is a major step in bringing affordable, high speed, fiber optic broadband to homes, businesses and civic centers in all the towns in Carroll County.”

Monroe was a guest at Thursday morning’s Carroll County Broadband meeting.

“The goal is to have enough bandwidth so that you are never looking for it,” she told the group.

Attendees included selectmen from Conway, Effingham and Tamworth; Chuck Henderson from the U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s Office, Jac Cuddy from the Mount Washington Valley Economic Council and state Rep. Jerry Knirk (D-Freedom).

Monroe said the grant is designed to help six low-income rural communities.

ValleyNet is a non-profit internet service provider. It operates a community-owned “telecommunications union district” called East Central Vermont Telecommunications District, better known as ECFiber, which offers “wicked fast” fiber-optic internet service to east-central Vermont, which would be unserved or underserved by traditional internet providers.

EC Fiber has been able to build 1,400 miles of fiber in six years. The ultimate goal is to bring fiber to Carroll County residents’ doorsteps.

“It’s hard to do that for people who are off-grid but not impossible,” said Monroe. “There is fiber to a yurt in Vermont.”

The speed of DSL connections greatly depends on how close one is to a distribution cabinet.

Had this grant not been awarded, Monroe said, the group would have to continue to look for grants to get that work done. “That would take time,” said Monroe, confirming the grant is a “big boost” to the project.

Fiber connections can give plenty of bandwidth and high speed internet to residences and businesses that are not in the center of town. Quality internet provides businesses access to “the cloud” to do accounting and financial work and also assists with marketing.  

Business people use programs like Quicken in the Cloud to do their financial work, and it requires a robust internet connection. Cloud computing also backs up data so it’s not lost to a disaster like a fire at the business.

“I can’t do a lot of my work from my home in Dublin because all I have is DSL,” said Monroe, adding that businesses need adequate download and upload speeds.

She also said potential home buyers are looking for great internet connections. They may be working in Vermont or New Hampshire but connected to places like New York or Hong Kong.

At the meeting, attendees discussed the potential of fiber to help library patrons, schools as well as people who do tele-medicine and second home owners who want to work on vacation.

Other communities that will be helped are Pine Bluffs, Ark.; Garrett County, Md., and Lebanon, N.H., as well as Readsboro and Roxbury, Vt.

Asked how much money each community would be getting, Monroe said the answer isn’t simple.

Rural Innovative Strategies does mapping while ValleyNet has business and technology experience bringing fiber to Vermont homes, and CTC has done feasibility and business plans nationally. Some work can be shared. So if, say ValleyNet, creates a survey, it could be used in the other communities as well as Carroll County.

“Basically, we are doing this work across all six entities; each one of us brings a different talent to the project,” said Monroe.

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