The Mountain Times

°F Thu, April 24, 2014

Central Vermont's Most Popular Weekly Newspaper

State invests $5 million in cell service expansion grant

The Vermont Telecommunications Authority (VTA) Board has approved a $5 million grant to expand cellular service within 19 areas including: Bennington, Rutland, Windham, and Windsor counties. The award goes to VTel Wireless, an affiliate of Vermont Telephone based in Springfield. The cellular project, with a total cost of $15 million, will extend mobile voice and data service in two ways: VTEL Wireless will be launching their own retail cellular service, and they will have roaming agreements with multiple major cell carriers.

"This investment of state funds for cellular equipment through VTel Wireless will fill in some of our most challenging gaps in southern Vermont. Connect VT, the VTA and our carriers are tackling our cellular challenge on all fronts. With our help, the industry and VTA are building towers, extending fiber, adding equipment for faster service, and using our expedited permitting process to get it done," said Gov. Peter Shumlin.

The state's commitment to finding effective ways to extend and improve cell service in Vermont's challenging mountain landscape is ongoing. Funding for the VTA award was made possible by an appropriation in the capital budget by the Legislature and is a part of Gov. Shumlin's Connect VT initiative.

"This project is the VTA's most significant award to date to expand cellular service, and it represents a tremendous step forward in our efforts," said VTA Executive Director Christopher Campbell. "We are pleased to support VTel's work to bring cellular service to underserved communities in southern Vermont."

One key aspect of the cellular project is that it will be based on substantial broadband infrastructure already being built by VTel Wireless. Broadband Internet access will become available to a significant number of currently unserved or under-served Vermont homes and businesses as VTel constructs a 4G (fourth generation) LTE-technology system known as Wireless Open World (WOW). The VTel Wireless WOW project is primarily funded by a combination of a federal stimulus grant plus a federal loan, as well as VTel's own investment.

Many of the WOW broadband service areas overlap with the 'target corridors' for cell service. Target corridors are main travel routes identified as either lacking cell service completely or having inconsistent coverage. Connect VT and the VTA identified over 100 of them in 2011 in order to focus funding and find solutions.

Here is a sample of locations where cell service coverage will be improved:
•         Andover Road from Andover to Weston
•         Route 7 in Pownal
•         Route 9 in Marlboro and Wilmington
•         Routes 100 and 100a in Plymouth
•         Route 100 in Wardsboro
•         Route 103 in Mount Holly
•         Route 133 from Pawlet to Middletown Springs

"Our original WOW wireless broadband project award did not include funding to tap into the cellular capabilities of our 4G/LTE network, or to provide 3G signal for phones that Vermonters already have. This award, and the recent FCC Mobility fund award, make our plan to bring cellular service to Vermonters possible. We look forward to launching cellular service in addition to our fixed wireless voice and data service with the WOW network. We have always believed that rural Vermonters deserve the very best technology," said Michel Guite, President of VTel.

Their cellular voice service equipment will be deployed on many of the same structures planned for the WOW project. VTel also will install small-cell sites on utility poles. Small-cell equipment, deployed at relatively short intervals along roadways, will bring cell service to areas that are especially difficult to serve.

To prepare for technological advances already in the pipeline, the project does more than simply extend current 3G voice technology to these locations in southern Vermont. VTel Wireless will purchase core equipment that will ultimately make it possible for them to add mobile cell service to their entire LTE wireless broadband system, which will reach into the Northeast Kingdom.

According to Karen Marshall, Chief of Connect VT, "The mission to connect Vermont is twofold: to achieve universal broadband service and to vastly expand our cellular service by the end of 2013. Our cell carriers are investing heavily to upgrade their existing networks to 4G/LTE at the same time we are seeking expanded coverage. This grant to VTel Wireless, a Vermont company, represents a significant investment in leading-edge micro and macro cell technology that will meet the needs of Vermonters. We are using the VTel Wireless broadband infrastructure of the WOW project as a foundation, then identifying where those sites overlap with Target Corridors. Our public funds leverage federal and private funds already at work as we avoid duplication of infrastructure and stretch our resources further."