How do things stand with our homestead’s broadband connection?
Short answer: not well, but we’re starting out with some first and next steps.
Longer answer: as readers have noticed, we’ve been having a hard time getting basic connectivity working at our mountaintop homestead. In the past month local ISP Fairpoint took us offline – two different times – and even messed up our business landline phone.
When things are working (and the landline works) we manage speeds of around 2.3 Mpbs down, and .65 up. According to this FCC page that’s the minimum for some basic internet functions (email, web browsing, low end video, VOIP) but not enough for others (“Two-way online gaming in HD,” plus “university lectures” and “telelearning”, interestingly). It’s way, way below the 25 down, 3 up that the FCC decided should mean “broadband” – a year and a half ago.
As you know, I can’t do key portions of my work at these speeds, including basic Skype, videoconferencing (like the Future Trends Forum), video uploading to YouTube, and so on. Nonprofessional use is also unreliable. Overall, “unreliable” is a good alternative word to use when thinking about Fairpoint, along with “sad” and “lethargically slow”.
Also, as my wife pointed out, there is now a safety issue if our landline is now unreliable. Recall that we can’t get cell phone coverage here. It seems that, independent of conditions (weather, accidents) we can be cut off from the world. Which, while having the occasional tonic benefit for the mind, is not only lousy for work, but dangerous.
To their credit, one Fairpoint manager has been calling us regularly to check in. Which we appreciate.
I’ve spent many hours over this past month investigating what can be done. Here’s the latest.
- Fairpoint will not make speeds faster at our house. They refuse. Politely, one rep explained to me that it would cost $37,000 US to bring faster cables this way; left unspoken was that any returns wouldn’t be worth the cost to Fairpoint.
- The federal government has ladled money into Fairpoint specifically to improve connectivity, according to a rep from our state’s Congressman. But it’s up to Fairpoint to allocate those resources, and we know they won’t end up here.
- The nearest other ISP, Comcast, doesn’t reach our area, and has no plans to.
- VTel, an entity charged by the state to bring fast wireless to even “the most rural areas”, does not reach our town, nor do they have plans to do so anytime soon.
- ECFiber, a project bringing broadband to some small Vermont towns, does not reach over the mountain to us. Nor are they legally allowed to.
- Google isn’t bringing fiber anywhere near us.
- Neither Verizon nor AT+T look to be extending cell coverage this way.
- State government offices, like the Public Service Board, have basically conceded they can do nothing. They’ve also stopped answering my emails.
- Neither state gubernatorial candidate has expressed much interest in rural broadband.
- Local ISP North Branch Networks gets us a connection that’s a little slow down, and a little better up. A very useful tool for our toolkit.
In short, *nothing* is happening to improve the situation. Rural broadband here has hit a thick and durable wall.
So what are we going to do about it?
Here’s the current plan.
- Partnering with organizations in the area. We’ve been fortunate to connect with several local libraries 30-45 minutes away, and are trying them out for speeds and access.I’ve also explored office options, and have found several, each with significant prices, very burdensome on our little business. I prefer a coworking space, but there isn’t a coworking space in Middlebury (too small a town? no local demand?), so I’m looking at a nice one one hour away, in the town of Vergennes. (Here’s a good page introducing coworking, if you’re new to the idea.)
- Looking to hyperlocal government for… something. The country’s economic development corporation has been very good about responding to my queries. I’ll be meeting with our town’s selectboard in a few weeks, hopefully.
- Contacting local and state media. It’s possible that the failure of rural broadband is a story. It’s also conceivable that people have given up.
- Repeating outreach to local and state politicians. I’ll ping each one with this update.
- Reaching out to Fairpoint’s investors. Any advice on how best to do this, beyond my ongoing social media campaign?
To these I can add two more steps.
If government won’t act and the market has failed, is it time for social activism? Many people are definitely ticked off at how poor rural broadband is. Should I encourage protests? Maybe hold a day of public meetings?
Here’s the biggest step of all. Ceredwyn and I are now taking first steps to put our house on the market.
That’s the nuclear option for us, but it’s rapidly becoming our only choice, as public policy and markets continue to stall out.
We’ve lived and worked here for a decade and a half. We’ve turned an old hunting camp into a homestead through years of sweat, experiment, invention, and development. We succeeded in building a lifestyle that bridges the 20th (or 19th!) and 21st centuries… or so we thought.
But as the 21st century raced ahead, Vermont’s rural broadband has fallen far behind, barely struggling out of the 20th.
As our business grew, Vermont failed to provide the sufficient infrastructure to help it succeed.
Our hypothesis now: after some efforts, Vermont has decided to not be serious about rural connectivity. We would very much like to be proven wrong, but the hypothesis is the best explanation we can find.
In the meantime, we will now shift our efforts from trying out new crops and learning better forestry to improving the house’s curb value. Belay setting up that group of raised beds for corn; instead, turn to paint, cornices, improving the driveway’s appearance, and upgrading fixtures.
If Vermont gets its act together, or if we help that happen, then the worst outcome is that our house looks nice. If Vermont decides not to do this, we’ll head towards moving and starting up a new chapter in our lives.
I don’t have time in this post to express the shattering heartache such a move would entail. Heck, we don’t have time to think about it yet, between running a business that the state doesn’t care about and trying to get basic infrastructure operating, plus seeing our children through college. If this move happens, I’ll post about it as it occurs.
PS: thank you to readers for your thoughts and support. They have meant a great deal to us.