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January 04, 2007

More on Vermont, The First E-State

Earlier today I posted my enthusiasm for Governor Jim Douglas’ proposal to make Vermont the first E-State in the nation and provide 100% broadband coverage, fixed and mobile, by 2010.  Below is the full text of the part of his speech which spells out this initiative.  The whole speech is available as a PDF from the Burlington Free Press here.

There is no doubt that a safe and reliable system of roads and bridges is essential for today’s economy, but the critical infrastructure for the future of Vermont will not much look like a car, a culvert or a bend in the road.  It will look like this [nb. He is holding up a Blackberry]. 

In my hand there is wireless mobility, complete access and clear connections.  In my hand is fairness and equity for all of Vermont.  In my hand is both freedom and unity.

In three years, this phone will be capable of downloading email, images and video at speeds faster than most home broadband today.  It will allow Vermonters to work from anywhere, anytime, unimpeded by spotty coverage, bad connections and the constant aggravation of dropped calls.

We’ve made great strides in improving cellular coverage along main corridors, but large areas of Vermont still have no signal.  Although in the last three years we’ve helped over 45,000 more homes and offices get access to broadband internet – so nearly 90% of Vermont homes have access – the remaining 10% will take many more years to reach by traditional means.

While we take incremental steps to build a hard-wired network, the wireless world moves ahead.  Homes that do not have broadband available are becoming increasingly difficult to sell.  Entrepreneurs looking to start a new business will barely consider breaking ground in a community without good cellular coverage.  Broadband internet and wireless cellular are no longer mere conveniences afforded to urbanites or the well-heeled; they are a fundamental part of modern life for all Vermonters, as essential as electricity and good roads.  This is the technological foundation of the Vermont Way Forward.

Thanks to the work we’ve done, Vermont is well positioned to leap over existing technology and support both broadband and cellular communications for the entire state. 

Wireless communications and broadband internet access are near the point of convergence – meaning the technologies that support each will be the same.  More specifically, modern telecommunications will be based on Internet Protocol, or IP, a digital language that can support voice calls – like cell phones and standard telephones – as well as internet communications – such as email and web pages. 

Building on these technological advances, I propose that by 2010, Vermont be the nation’s first true “e-state” – the first state to provide universal cellular and broadband coverage everywhere and anywhere within its borders.  When you turn on your laptop, you’re connected.  When you hit the send button on your cell phone, the call goes through.   There would be no more endless downloads, no more hopeless hellos, and no more “can you hear me now.”

This goal is within our grasp if we move quickly and decisively during this legislative session.

To facilitate the creation of our “e-state,” I propose a Vermont Telecommunications Authority that will partner with private enterprise to build a next generation infrastructure that supports universal broadband and cellular coverage.  The state will back $40 million of bonding by the Authority, which will leverage more than $200 million in private investment.  The Authority will serve as a bridge between public sector efforts and private sector investments and will seek to complement – not replace – the role of service providers and infrastructure developers. 

Unlike building more roads or bigger buildings to support growth, the commercial infrastructure of tomorrow will be almost invisible, but for a handful of towers and antennas.

To support the work of the Authority, we need to reduce the time it takes to build a truly modern infrastructure.  I will be proposing a series of responsible modifications to Vermont’s permitting laws that will balance our environmental values with the need to move rapidly.  Those measures will include using state-owned structures and rights-of-way to speed required construction.

The benefits of an “e-state” are evident to current and prospective employers.  It represents meaningful connections within Vermont and with the vast world outside.  Whether it means a construction worker can receive a business call at a remote job site, a bed and breakfast can offer guests wireless cellular and broadband, a feed store can order new inventory online or a small mail-order business can cut calling costs, our “e-state” strategy establishes the platform for success across all sectors of the economy.

The advantages of a state-of-the-art telecommunications platform extend well beyond the economic value of the Vermont Way Forward.  A true “e-state” enhances our public safety network, extends the reach of health care, and improves the education of young Vermonters.

Ever-present cellular coverage will give residents and visitors an extra measure of protection and provide a communications network where police officers of one town can talk to firefighters of another.

The emergence of telemedicine, made possible by our universal broadband network, will offer dramatically enhanced monitoring services to chronically ill patients and the elderly.  Vermonters with chronic conditions will be able to transmit information instantly to their doctors who can respond to anomalies or alarming trends. 

Vermont is fast becoming a leader in health care innovation, led by Catamount Health and the Blueprint for Health. While our best-in-the-nation broadband network can never replace the compassionate touch of our health care providers, it will make available to them the most modern tools to improve quality and reduce costs.

***

The education of our children is the single most important and lasting impact of our “e-state” initiative.  Affordable broadband services provide every child with access to the educational resources of the best schools and libraries throughout the world, as well as offering continuing education opportunities for lifelong learners. 

Teachers and students would have at their fingertips a world’s worth of educational resources.  Whether it’s online classes, tutorials to supplement classroom learning or internet video links with other classrooms throughout the world, our network will firmly establish Vermont as the best place to live and raise a family. 

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