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May 19, 2011

Stowe Electric Brings Fiber to the Mountain

The Nose on top of Mt. Mansfield bristles with communication towers (don't worry; it's still beautiful). Television stations reach much of the state from its highest mountain. Emergency services depend on transmission facilities there. Keeping reliable power flowing to this subarctic (really) environment is difficult but vital. So it shouldn't be any surprise that Stowe Electric, our local municipal utility, is upgrading an existing line, which lies on the ground, and putting it in a low-impact trench.

But, as a newly elected Board member of the utility, I was overjoyed to learn that Stowe Electric is also planning on putting fiber in the trench. In fact fiber has been part of the plan from the beginning several years ago. The demand for data transport to the top of the mountain is increasing rapidly and will probably skyrocket.

With digital broadcasting and high def TV, the over-the-air stations need much more bandwidth than they did before. Each now has four channels available where they just had one before. Emergency services transmit from the antenna farm.

Even more interesting for the future of broadband in Vermont, Wireless ISP (WISP) GlobalNet has started providing high speed Internet access by radio from an antenna they have placed on an existing tower on top of the mountain. They have packages which range from 29.95/month for 1.5 megabits per second to $44.95 for 7 meg; I'm using the latter and so far it is performing as advertised. They able to offer access at least as far as Stowe to any structure which can see the Nose and say they will extend the service with relays from those with a good line of sight to those whose view is blocked.

As GlobalNet adds customers and possible competitors also provide broadband from the mountain and as the data speeds offered get faster and faster, a bigger and bigger data path to the mountain for backhaul (wholesale broadband) will be required. The fiber Stowe Electric is wisely including in their project will meet this need. Municipally-owned Stowe Electric is serving its customers and owners in three ways with this project: the mountain top transmitters of all varieties will get the reliable power they need; businesses and residences in Stowe will have another very competitive broadband option; and the extra revenue from both the power sales and backhaul will help keep Stowe electric rates down. Although the environmental impact of this project is de minimus, it still makes sense to use the same small trench to meet both power and data needs.

Good planning by Stowe Electric.

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