The town of Londonderry has joined the Southern Vermont Communications Union District, the entity formed earlier this year with the goal of bringing high-speed internet to underserved parts of the region.
The Windham County town’s addition to the CUD, unanimously approved by the entity’s board at its Nov. 11 meeting, marks the first time a town has joined the district since a dozen towns opted to become founding members through Town Meeting Day votes in March.
All of the other towns within the district — Arlington, Bennington, Dorset, Landgrove, Manchester, Pownal, Peru, Rupert, Sandgate, Shaftsbury, Sunderland and Woodford — are located within Bennington County.
Resident Jeff Such will serve as Londonderry’s representative on the district’s board, with Ellen Seidman serving as an alternate.
Londonderry already is a member of the Deerfield Valley Communications Union District, having joined this past summer. That district, which also formed earlier this year, now represents 19 towns, most of which are in Windham County. The district also includes Readsboro and Stamford, of Bennington County, and Weston, of Windsor County.
The Londonderry Select Board voted to request the town’s admission to the Southern Vermont CUD at its Oct. 19 meeting after Such noted the possibility of collaboration between the two adjacent districts.
“I think it’s prudent for us to hedge our bets, I guess, to a certain extent, and join up with Southern Vermont as well so we are privy to what both districts are doing,” Such said during the meeting. “There’s scuttlebutt about some level of operational partnership and I think it behooves us — sitting, again, at the intersection of the two districts — to join both and be best positioned to take advantage of whatever agreement the two districts come to.”
A consultant team hired by the Southern Vermont CUD previously determined that the district will need to partner or merge with a neighboring district — Deerfield Valley, most likely — to ensure its financial viability.
At the Nov. 11 meeting, the Southern Vermont CUD’s board recapped its activities this year and shared potential plans for the future as part of a hearing on its annual report.
The district’s board over the summer chose to endorse telecommunications firm Tilson’s bid in a federal auction for funds to expand broadband in the region. In September, it approved a contract with the same company to take stock of thousands of utility poles in part of the district, a potential precursor to designing a network.
The district has received grants this year totaling $170,000, according to the entity’s annual report, a figure that includes a $60,000 state grant for the feasibility study by the consultant team mentioned above.
Board members said during the meeting that a committee or working group is forming to explore potential collaboration between the Southern Vermont and Deerfield Valley districts.
“A lot of us have been thinking about a two-county solution really from the beginning, and Deerfield Valley is thinking along those lines, too,” said Tim Scoggins, who chairs the Southern Vermont CUD’s board. “So it’s likely that we’ll end up going that way.”
The clerk of Deerfield Valley’s governing board didn’t immediately respond to an email on Monday seeking comment.
Scoggins said the district would likely modify its feasibility study to reflect a prospective collaboration with Deerfield Valley before finalizing the document and developing a business plan.
The outcome of the federal auction, which Scoggins said is anticipated around the end of this year or January, will shape the district’s next steps, the chairman said. The consultant team previously found that a victory of Tilson or an incumbent provider willing to partner with the district would be preferred outcomes.
Scoggins said that next year, if sufficient funds were identified, the district would explore hiring a part-time, professional administrator, citing a need to build institutional memory and the limits of relying on volunteers.
Other prospective activities for the district in the new year, according to Scoggins, include rebranding under a trade name it has already secured, Catamount Fiber, and launching a “pre-subscription campaign” to document resident interest in broadband service, which in turn could help the district entice a private provider to partner with it.
The Deerfield Valley Communications Union District already has taken similar action with respect to its name, adopting the trade name of DVFiber.