By JOHN S. McCRIGHT
— Bill Biederman likes living in Ripton, but the mountains
that surround his home often make communicating with the outside
world difficult. He hasn’t owned a television for 25 years
because the reception is so poor and he describes his use of the
Internet over a slow, dial-up connection as “incredibly painful.”
And then, of course, when the phone lines get knocked out by inclement
weather even that is gone.
all that changed on Dec. 6 when the Ripton Broadband Cooperative
(RBC) began offering wireless, high-speed Internet access to the
first 50 co-op members.
son came down to me and said, ‘Geez, Dad, I was just watching
English soccer on the Internet, this is fantastic,’”
for providing more high-speed Internet access in the state say the
experience in Ripton is a prime example of how the technology could
be broadly distributed in order to provide not only more entertainment
options for Vermonters but services that could boost education,
business and the economy. At least one local company has plans to
extend high-speed access to more Addison County residents in the
next few months.
pointed out that his son used the high-speed access, also called
broadband, at his home to complete a research project on volcanoes.
Jeremy Grip, chief operations officer at Middlebury-based North
Branch Networks (NBN), which is working with RBC, ticked off a number
of services that can be provided over high-speed Internet connections:
online banking, voice telephony over the Internet, downloading videos
and online gaming.
is the efficient use of email and the ability to receive and forward
large attachments much more quickly,” Grip said.
added that having a replacement for the telephone makes sense given
Vermont’s sometimes punishing weather.
not tied to the phone company,” he said. “If you are
off the grid or have some kind of way to generate power and everything
goes down you still have communications.”
these benefits come at no little expense in terms of both money
and effort. Biederman, who is chair of the RBC board, said setting
up service in Ripton took much longer than expected. The idea for
bringing broadband to Ripton was conceived in 2003 and interested
residents began meeting to discuss implementation that September.
They found many technical, regulatory and legal hoops to jump through.
basically had to create our bylaws for our co-op from scratch because
no one has done a co-op this small,” Biederman said.
they ended up with is a system that looks like this: TelJet Longhaul
LLC connects NBN to the Internet via fiber-optic cable fed underground
to the NBN offices in Middlebury’s Battell Block, where it
is converted into a wireless signal. From the Battell Block the
signal is broadcast to the roof of McCardell Bicentennial Hall at
Middlebury College, and then is redirected to a 110-foot wind tower
in West Cornwall. From there, it is redirected to a second wind
tower in Ripton and then down to customers in Ripton. For customers
who live down in hollows or behind other obstacles, the signal will
be bounced off additional access point transmitters.
the kind of thing you have to do in Vermont because every time you
turn around you have something in the way,” Biederman said.
the startup phase, NBN put in “innumerable hours” providing
consulting and technical expertise to the project, Biederman said.
At one point last fall the co-op had to organize volunteers to put
up the signal tower in Ripton. The tower-raising turned out to be
“very much a community event,” he added.
addition, NBN received additional expertise and assistance from
a long list of sources that ranged from the Vermont Small Business
Development Center to Otter Creek Brewing founder Lawrence Miller
and Bryan Alexander, director of research at the National Institute
on Technology and Liberal Education. Grip said that “NBN was
deeply appreciative of the cooperation of all the people involved
in this co-location from a relay at Bicentennial Hall.”
reason Ripton residents had to work so hard themselves to get broadband
isn’t enough money there to start a private business,”
RBC, which Biederman said is aiming to sign up 70 members, received
a $25,000 grant from the Vermont Broadband Council (VBC). It then
and secured a loan of $12,500 from the Addison County Economic Development
Corp and also secured a $40,000 line of credit from the Vermont
Economic Development Authority.
success in making high-speed access a reality in Ripton should be
a motivator for other communities who want broadband, according
to Jack Hoffman, executive director of the VBC.
is) so remote it shows that almost any community in Vermont can
do this,” he said.
Willem Jewett, D-Ripton, has been working in the Legislature to
help find money and expertise to get broadband access to more Vermonters
who live in difficult-to-serve areas like Ripton. For instance,
in each of the last two years Legislators have put $100,000 in the
capital bill to fund a grant program.
the past few years an ad hoc committee of state representatives
and senators interested in the health of rural communities have
met weekly to discuss how they can further that goal. The group
plans to continue meetings in the session that started this week.
that group weigh in on issues is helpful in getting the attention
of the leadership, Jewett said. “It means that it’s
not just a few legislators.”
A GOOD MODEL
smaller, independent phone companies are doing a good job providing
broadband Internet access to their Vermont customers, according
to Hoffman. But for smaller towns not served by these companies,
which is most of Vermont, a co-op business model is a good way to
get such services and maintain control over them, he added.
a good model in Vermont,” Hoffman said. “It is good
for communities to have some control over the services they get.
As all our telecommunications services migrate to a single wire
— pretty soon your television, telephone, Internet are all
going to be coming into your house on one wire — as a matter
of public policy we ought to think about who owns that.”
NBN also is ready to jump into that breach in parts of Addison County.
company expects to roll out broadband service in Salisbury this
month. Grip explained that it will be able to do this by bouncing
its wireless Internet signal off the West Cornwall tower.
In the spring it plans to add service to most of the rest of Addison
County and parts of neighboring counties. The signal for that service
will come from microwave radio transmitters BNB will place on the
tower atop Chipman Hill in Middlebury. The exact coverage area is
available at www.nbnworks.net.
primary market is those people who have no broadband option now,”
Grip said. “We fully expect to be running a service as fast
if not faster than current DSL and considerably faster on the upload
side than cable offerings.”
hopes to have 2,500 subscribers within two years. Customers will
pay a $99 installation fee plus a monthly charge. Pricing for that
service, which provide downloads at speeds up to 1,500 kbps and
higher depending on the product the customer chooses, will be similar
to that paid by RBC customers, Grip said.
for RBC services runs from about $35 to $55 per month for residential
customers and $45 to $75 per month for small businesses.
Hoffman hopes that these recent developments are only the first
of many to come.
we should push for in Vermont is as much capacity a possible,”
he said. “If were going to have all this content — especially
television — we need a lot more capacity.”
North Branch Networks Launches New Website
In anticipation of the roll out of the Ripton Coop in coming weeks
and of greater Addison County this summer, North Branch Networks
has redesigned its website. More information will be added over
the next several weeks, so please check back for further changes.
Senator Patrick Leahy and the Vermont Broadband Council announced
early last week the award of a $25,000 grant
to the Ripton Broadband Cooperative for the implementation of a
wireless network to provide competitively priced high speed internet
access to the residents of Ripton, Vermont.
This announcement caps an effort that has been underway for more
than a year. North Branch Networks, LLC, of Ripton was formed early
in this process, when it became clear that there was a need and
a business opportunity for a nimble and imaginative firm providing
high-speed Internet access to underserved rural Vermont communities.
Early in the development of the Ripton network, it became obvious
that some level of subsidy would be necessary to make the financial
model work, owing to the high ratio of infrastructure cost to potential
subscriber base. This grant, providing approximately one third of
the initial capital expenditure for the network, fills that need.
Financial arrangements are being finalized for the loan funds necessary
to roll out the project, with the help of the Vermont Small Business
Development Center, the Addison County Economic Development Corporation,
and the Vermont Economic Development Authority. The network is expected
to go live this summer.
North Branch CTO Paonia N'Shaiha has shepherded the development
of the Ripton project from conception. A career information technology
professional and Ripton resident, her vision grew out of frustration
with the lack of options available from existing providers. Not
long after she was joined by another Ripton resident with similar
concerns and complementary skills in construction and project management,
Jeremy Grip, in the formation of North Branch Networks, LLC.
N'Shaiha and Grip feel that the Ripton Co-op model can serve other
Vermont communities facing similar barriers to "bridging the
digital divide." They are actively developing plans for other
underserved Addison County communities on both similar and purer
According to North Branch, "The beautiful thing about RBC is
that a group of frustrated residents as small as 45 can each buy
a $200 Co-op share and own a $75,000 network that provides them
market-rate broadband access and pays for itself in four or five
years. With not many more members, it generates enough income to
upgrade, replace itself, or cut subscriber rates substantially after