Economic, broadband efforts praised in Readsboro

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READSBORO — Gov. Phil Scott was in town Friday, meeting with community members working to boost the local economy and expand high-speed broadband internet service.

Residents and local and state officials gathered at the E.J. Bullock Building on Main Street. Volunteer-led economic development efforts were touted and two new projects were detailed that will bring high-speed internet to new areas of both Readsboro and Whitingham.

"This work demonstrates the value of working together — finding common ground towards a common goal," Scott said.

Soon, some under-served areas in towns will have broadband, according to Clay Purvis, director for the Department of Public Service's telecommunications and connectivity division. FairPoint Communications will provide DSL-based broadband internet to 56 addresses in the Bennington County town of Readsboro, and another 100 in the Windham County town of Whitingham, he said. In addition, Southern Vermont Broadband Cooperative will bring service to a handful of additional under-served locations in Readsboro.

That's possible through a public-private partnership, said Jeffrey Austin, FairPoint's director of government relations.

In attendance were numerous town officials, as well as State Sen. Brian Campion (D-Bennington) and State Rep. Laura Sibilia (I-Dover).

Local historian Al Scaia led a tour and talk of the E.J. Bullock building. Susan Bailey, president of Readsboro Hometown Redevelopment, Inc., said it shows the town's rich history, having served as a major business resource for many years. That nonprofit acquired it in 2009 and it's since obtained grant funding to shore-up the building, constructed in 1890. A new partnership with Readsboro Arts has brought a gallery to the first-floor, open from May to October.

Bailey said her group wants to have the building heated so it can be used year-round and is looking towards opening the upper floors of the 12,000 squarefoot building up for things like small businesses and startups.

"We're a small community with a small population, but brave of heart and are a very vital part of the overall Vermont landscape," she said.

A 12-member board of directors oversees that nonprofit, a volunteer effort like the broadband cooperative founded in 2005.

Scott praised members of both groups. Of the cooperative members, he noted they learned from scratch on how to build a wireless network and prov internet service, and negotiate leases for space on neighboring towers and install equipment. Today, SVBC serves most of Stamford and half of Readsboro.

Residents without high-speed broadband service need a dial-up modem or a satellite service to access the internet.

Multi-year efforts to expand broadband has taken a lot of community involvement, said Robert Briggs, president of SVBC. A broadcast antenna was installed at the elementary school over 10 years ago and other signal repeaters have since been installed.

In 2014, SVBC entered an agreement with Avangrid, the developer behind the Hoosac Wind Project. That allowed the cooperative to put equipment on a tower on Bakke Mountain in Florida, Mass. for broadband internet and also communications for public safety.

New equipment on another tower on Crum Hill in Monroe, Mass. would expand broadband into the west end of Readsboro, Briggs said.

"It's a very exciting project," he said.

Reach staff writer Edward Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111 or @edamon_banner.

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