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March 30, 2007

E-State Update

It was another good week for Vermont’s initiative to become the first e-state and provide all of its residents with adequate broadband and cellular coverage everywhere and anywhere in the State.  Four more committees of the Vermont house took a formal look at  H.248, the bill which can make all this good stuff happen, and each of them overwhelmingly recommended the bill to the full house.  In addition, several other committees have taken an informal look at the bill and decided that there is no need for them to take formal jurisdiction.

The scorecard is:

Commerce: 11-0-0 (previously reported)

Natural Resources and Energy: 10-0-1

Government Operations: 10-0-1

Transportation: 8-0-3

Appropriations: 10-1-0

Total: 49-1-5.

The last of the three numbers means not voting.  Not sure whether these were abstentions or absences or both. There are 150 members total, BTW, in the Vermont House; so a significant percentage have already made their feelings known on the bill. This continues to be a non-partisan text book lesson in civics. 

Of course, there were changes – some of which (in my view) improved the bill, some of which (again in my view) deproved the bill; that’s the way democracy works.  The essential elements of the bill are intact: a telecommunications authority with the ability to make quick decisions and take real action, revenue bonding authorization of $40 million, regulatory streamlining, encouragement of rooftop and utility-pole-top small antennas, and increased flexibility for towns to finance and build municipal facilities if they choose to.  Note that the only taxpayer dollars here are a small startup appropriation; the bonds are serviced by revenues from the facilities like communication towers which the authority will build.

You can see the bill and its amendments as it stands now in the House calendar.

The full house is scheduled to take up the bill today.  In all likelihood (fingers crossed), the Senate will have the bill next week.

There was an extensive story about Vermont’s plans in The Bond Buyer.  This publicity is important because eventually Treasurer Jeb Spaulding will have to sell these bonds to investors.  Since they are backed only by revenues from the projects to be build, investors will take a hard look at the economics and not just rely on Vermont’s newly-achieved triple-A bond rating.

The venerable (29 years and counting) Doyle town meeting day poll  found that 82% of respondents think that cell and Internet coverage are important to Vermont’s economic future, 10% not sure and 8% unimportant.  Senator Doyle says this is one of the highest percentages on one side of an issue the poll has ever elicited.

In an editorial, the Rutland Herald says:

“Developing Vermont's electronic infrastructure is a key to [Governor Jim] Douglas' plan for Vermont to establish itself as a world center of environmental technology and engineering. Vermont has a reputation as an environmentally progressive place, but it also has a population widely scattered through hundreds of small towns and villages. The development of Vermont as an "e-state" will help the state exploit its environmental reputation while allowing Vermonters to continue living within their glorious rural environment.”

Our friends David Zahn and Anci Slovak along with some other Vermonters including my wife, Mary, have formed an organization called the “Internet for ALL, NOW” committee  and set up a web site as a focus for information about H.248 and an e-place for those want an e-state in a hurry to rally.  It has an e-petition, natch, which is garnering e-signatures e-fast. The site also has an extensive Q&A about the e-state initiative with answers supplied by Tom Murray, Commissioner of The Vermont Department of Information and Innovation.

Ironically, those who need broadband access the most will have the hardest time interacting with the site although it has been designed to be as dialup friendly as possible.  This reinforces the need for universal broadband – many sites important to people’s daily lives are no longer bothering to make themselves usable via dialup.

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