Dover, Wilmington want to go high-tech

Sunday March 28, 2010

BRATTLEBORO -- Deerfield Valley towns are making an effort to increase cell and high-speed Internet coverage by working together and hiring specialists.

The town of Dover recently hired Economic Development Specialist Patrick Moreland to work full-time alongside the Dover Economic Development Committee.

In addition, both Dover and Wilmington both passed Town Meeting articles for $50,000 from each town to further their joint long-term economic development efforts. Half of those funds will be used to hire a professional economic development planner, who the towns have yet to hire, but who is slated to begin work in July.

High-speed Internet and cell phone coverage are seen by many as essential components to improve the economic climate of the town.

In a letter read at Town Meeting, addressed to the voters in Wilmington and Dover, the members of the Selectboards from both towns encouraged voters to pass the $50,000 article.

The letter stated that "we must work rigorously to obtain high-speed broadband and fiber optic connectivity. Reaching this goal is essential to our bringing new, small business to the Deerfield Valley as well as growing our tourism."

"Access to high-speed technology adds value to our existing institutions and creates an environment conducive to the generation of wealth," said Moreland. "It offers us a new opportunity to explore the human condition with our friends and neighbors across the world."

Moreland, originally from Marlboro, said his experience with Internet in the rural town has prepared him to deal with the challenges in Dover.

"It certainly gives me a base of experience," he said, adding that he worked with other members of the Brattleboro and Deerfield Valley community, like Laura Sibilia of the Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce, Barbara Sondag, Brattleboro town manager, and Jeff Lewis, executive director of the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, to bring the communication services provider FairPoint to the region.

"Having that experience has helped me to be a more valuable asset to the town of Dover," Moreland said.

About half of Dover can get high-speed Internet service throughDuncan Cable TV Services.

Last October, FairPoint announced that it had expanded its high-speed Internet service to reach 2,000 more customers in five southern Vermont towns including West Dover.

Moreland said he has been speaking with FairPoint representatives about expanding FairPoint’s service. And it’s not just talk, he said; FairPoint has recently been laying wire so that it can reach more homes.

"They’re doing a great deal of work, particularly toward developing East Dover," Moreland said. "It’s slow, but the work is continuous, and we’re supporting them in every way we can."

Moreland said that in the months to come, he’s looking forward to working with the tri-town planner, whose hire is in the works.

"The tri-town long-term project subcommittee will be meeting to draft a job description," said Bob Rusten, Wilmington town manager and member of the long-term project committee. "Once we put together a sort of draft, we’ll meet with both select boards see what they think and see if there are any changes they want to make.

"If it’s at all possible, we would like to have someone starting as soon as they can in July," he said.

Rusten said that he expects Moreland and the tri-town planner would often work together to achieve common goals.

Sibilia agreed, saying that "our belief is that we could have a couple more people working on economic development here and we would be able to keep them busy."

"I think it’s critical we have to work together," Sibilia added. "There’s not enough of us, not enough time and not enough money ... our economies so intertwined, it makes sense for us to look at the issues together, share costs and come up with primary goals that are compatible in both towns."

Improved telecommunications is an urgent need, not just in the Deerfield Valley but in all of southern Vermont, Sibilia said.

The Brattleboro Development Credit Corp. has been working on the problem for about three years, according to Lewis at the BDCC. "Everybody wants it and nobody knows how to do it," he said.

It’s a longshot, Lewis said, but the most fruitful development right now is the progress that the federal government is making when it comes to deeming broadband a universal communications platform, a necessary service that will be provided to all Americans just like telephone service or electricity.

Lewis believes it’s likely that the change will be very slow but worth the effort.

"I will continue to talk to the Vermont Telecommunications Authority as well as local action groups, trying to figure out how to get from where we are now to bigger, better, faster service," he said. "That’s good, but the solution in my mind is not in local grassroots movements but in a ubiquitous change."


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