U.S. Sens. Patrick Leahy, Bernie Sanders, Congressman Peter Welch, and Governor Peter Shumlin announced Friday that the U.S. Department of Economic Development (EDA) has awarded the Vermont Telecommunications Authority (VTA) a $1.6 million grant to help deploy disaster resilient cellular and broadband services to towns impacted by Irene and other 2011 flooding. The grant comes from disaster funding Leahy, Sanders, and Welch fought to include in the 2012 federal budget in the wake of Irene.
As the lawmakers and governor traveled the state following Irene, they repeatedly heard from Vermonters who recounted being in digital isolation following the flooding. Communities across the state either didn't have cell and broadband service pre-flooding or had cell and broadband service interrupted by Irene-related damage and power outages.
Leahy, Sanders, and Welch said, "As too many Vermonters learned when Irene struck, without cell service or broadband service, it was nearly impossible to contact emergency services, call family members, or begin to rebuild. Families struggled and businesses suffered as a result. This grant will help ensure fewer Vermonters ever face that type of digital isolation again while enabling communities to quickly recover from future disasters."
Shumlin said, "This is another great step forward as we work to ensure that our cellular infrastructure is further enhanced. These funds will greatly help Vermont and thanks to our federal delegation for their support of this project."
The VTA will use the funding to implement its Cellular Resiliency Project to expand cellular service on 120 miles of roadway in Addison County, Essex County, Washington County, Windham County and Windsor County near communities most impacted by 2011 flooding. The VTA will also build communication hotspots in cooperation with nine communities that took part in the grant planning. The hotspots, which will offer both wireless Internet and cellular service, will be disaster resilient and able to operate through power outages by incorporating stand-alone solar power sources and secondary broadband connectivity. The towns include Dover, Halifax, Hancock, Norton, Rochester, Roxbury, Stockbridge, Townshend and Whitingham.
VTA Executive Director Christopher Campbell said, "The VTA is very appreciative of the support that the delegation and the Governor have contributed to this project. We are proud to be a part of rebuilding stronger and more resilient communications in these areas." Campbell said the Cellular Resiliency Project will also help the VTA meet Governor Peter Shumlin's goal of universal cell and broadband availability by the end of 2013.
Leahy, Sanders and Welch fought to include special one-time EDA disaster funding in the 2011 disaster recovery bill, and then advocated for funding for the Vermont Telecommunications Authority and several other Vermont applicants in a letter sent to the EDA Regional Director in June 2012. Including Friday's announcement, Vermont organizations have received $4.3 million in EDA disaster assistance, including $1.8 million for the Vermont Council on Rural Development's Vermont Digital Economy Project, $472,000 for the Southern Vermont Disaster Recovery Project, $300,000 for the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, and $140,000 for the Village of Waterbury.
The EDA is a sub-agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce. The VTA grant was funded through the federal fiscal year 2012 Disaster Relief Opportunity notice. The EDA awards disaster grants to support a community's long-term recovery, spur job creation, leverage private investment, and promote disaster recovery.
The VTA supports broadband and cellular expansion across Vermont. To stay up-to-date on projects, visit www.telecomvt.org and www.broadbandvt.org.