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Vermont seeks to fix inaccuracies in broadband map

Fri, 05/13/2011 - 8:00am
Dave Gram, The Associated Press

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) – Maps of where speedy broadband Internet is available in Vermont are riddled with inaccuracies, and the state on Thursday announced an effort to fix that.

Gov. Peter Shumlin and Karen Marshall, chief of the state's ConnectVT effort to bring broadband and cellular phone service to all parts of Vermont, unveiled a new website, BroadbandVT.org, and asked people to check it and report incorrect information.

Shumlin offered himself as an example. Data from FairPoint Communications shows the governor's hometown of Putney as wired with high-speed Internet service. Shumlin said that's true in the village, but not out in the hills where he lives.

"That is news to me and my teenage daughters," Shumlin said about data showing his house has DSL. "We need the truth. We can't build out on bad data."

Building out is what the state is doing. Flush with more than $400 million, mainly in federal stimulus funds, the state has launched several projects to get broadband and cell service widely seen as key to economic development, to all the state's hamlets and rural back roads.

Sabina Haskell, spokeswoman for FairPoint, said the company had provided accurate data to state authorities about where broadband is available on its system, but the maps that are built from that data may not be.

"The data that we supply is accurate, but the way that it's being used is confusing," she said. "I think the governor's correct that people need to be careful on how they use the data. It gives people an indication of what companies to contact to see if broadband's available."

Shumlin has a goal of achieving statewide availability of broadband and cell service by the end of 2013. "Thank God 2013 has 12 months," he said to laughter from officials gathered at the Statehouse announcement. He said the state is on track to meet that date with broadband deployment.

Cellular service is more doubtful, but should be helped with last week's passage of a telecommunications bill that relaxes state environmental permitting requirements for installation of cell antenna towers.

Shumlin and Marshall said people without broadband service may want to go to their local libraries to use broadband Internet available there to access the BroadbandVT.org website and tell state officials about their situation at home. But they also said the site was designed to be usable by people with slower, dial-up Internet service.

A statement issued by Shumlin's office said BroadbandVT.org "was designed as a neutral, broad based and singular resource for all things broadband. The central element of the site is the coverage map - which is continuously updated to reflect the data input from visitors.

The map includes various overlays that identify areas without service, existing broadband service speeds, and public facilities, such as libraries, that offer broadband service. The map is updated on a 24-hour cycle to reflect the information recently gleaned from Vermonters visiting and providing data to the site.

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