ECFiber is a fiberoptic internet service provider (ISP). "Big city internet without the big city," their website boasts. Unlike most providers, however, ECFiber is a sub-political entity of the state.
On Town Meeting Day in 2008, 24 towns voted to join ECFiber, Thetford among them. The East Central Vermont Telecommunications District, operating as ECFiber, now has 31 member towns.
The organization was originally inspired by Burlington Telecom, which was operating a fiber-to-home network. Valley Net, a local non-profit ISP, incubated ECFiber and agreed to provide design, build, and operations management, as well as provide required seed capital and assist with ongoing financing. They hired the former manager of Burlington Telecom to lead the project.
Every year, per statute, ECFiber provides an annual report to its member towns: "During the past year ECFiber added almost 1,500 new customers and now serves about 6,500 premises in 23 towns via 1,400 miles of fiber-optic cable. Taken together, there are about 31,500 premises in the district located on almost 2,000 miles of roads."
The main goal of the district today is to complete construction of our network in our 23 original member towns, with the exception of central Woodstock (where all utilities are underground), and then to start building in the 8 new towns which joined the district in 2020.
Unlike most regional entities of which the Town is a member, however, from our regional planning commission to the Green Mountain Economic Development Corporation, ECFiber does not charge its member towns a fee. They are supported entirely by customer revenue, which in turn backs municipal bonds used to build out the network's infrastructure. The model has proven so successful that 8 districts are now working to emulate it across the state.
It hasn't been without challenges, especially with the pandemic: "The difficult labor market has delayed work, the effort of changing our phone provider stressed technical staff that would otherwise have been dealing with installations, a change in our billing and network monitoring software took significant management time, and efforts to expand service in existing areas revealed unknown technical kludges from our early do-it-on-a-shoestring days which simply had to be rebuilt. Add it all up and we are easily a year behind where we hoped to be by now."
ECFiber is hoping to expand their team.
Two new Installation Technicians (for a total of 9) will be added in 2021/2 to cover increased installation volume as well as increased tech service requirements of the expanding customer base. One new Customer Service Rep/Admin Assistant (for a total of 7) will be added. A key new position of Controller will be added this year to assist with internal accounting procedures. Salaries will increase by approximately 5-15%% (CPI has been running at 6% and we are paying much higher salaries to recruit new help and retain existing employees).
What else? "We hope to institute private lines to Boston and Albany where we can buy bandwidth more cheaply, but we have not budgeted those potential savings in 2022, so it remains stable at 14% of service revenue." Also, "We have increased marketing from a $90,000 budget in 2021 to $335,000 in 2022. ValleyNet will have in place a mechanism for spending these funds efficiently by YE 2021."
And here's a teaser, but don't cross your fingers: "Projections show that if, by 2024, ECFiber can: Build out all towns (for 2,186 network miles total), achieve roughly 5.8 customers per mile (only 34% penetration but over 12,000 customers), get a credit rating, and refinance the first 4 years of revenue bonds at rates below 4%, then a rate cut of $5 to $10 across the board could be possible in 2025."
If you want to learn more about ECFiber and their proposed budget (but, as stated, it won't impact municipal taxes), the East Central Vermont Telecommunications District is holding a public hearing on Tuesday, November 9th, 2021 at 7 pm.