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e-Vermont broadband effort benefited towns


Putting broadband to work for Vermont was the directive of e-Vermont, an initiative seeking to expand access to and make better use of high speed Internet throughout all parts of the state. Locally, the program resulted in netbooks for students, websites for towns, and multiple workshops and webinars.

After two years' labor, a final report from the Vermont Council on Rural Development tallies 24 communities around the state that benefited from the e-Vermont Community Broadband Project. According to the report, e-Vermont's "community-based approach" to broadband adoption allowed the project's 11 partners to work with towns to identify and implement projects in response to specific local needs.

Funding for those efforts, awarded through a competitive grant process, came from the Sustainable Broadband Adoption grants program, a result of 2009's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Paul Costello, VCRD executive director, said the venture "built a cultural infrastructure for innovation, founded on local leadership," providing a model for rural towns everywhere.

The e-Vermont project coincides with an effort to bring high speed internet to all Vermonters by the end of 2013, involving private capital plus $410 million in federal investments. Costello has likened building broadband infrastructure to the 1930s effort to bring electricity to all parts of the state.

Sunderland, Arlington, Sandgate, and Pownal were among local towns to benefit from e-Vermont. Statewide, the project distributed 1,326 netbooks to schools for students -- including local fourth and fifth graders last year at Pownal Elementary and Fisher Elementary.

Three towns that previously lacked an official online presence, Sunderland, Sandgate, and Pownal, received assistance creating their own websites. The Snelling Center for Government built websites for 15 municipalities statewide total.

Partnering with the Vermont Department of Libraries, e-Vermont upgraded equipment and expanded public Internet access at 27 public libraries, including the Solomon Wright Public Library in Pownal and the Martha Canfield Library in Arlington, both of which received computers and printers.

Workshops and webinars were held covering both introductory web- and computer-related topics as well as online marketing for businesses. The Vermont Small Business Development Center worked with 143 business clients and conducted 45 workshops statewide.

by ZEKE WRIGHT, Staff Writer, Bennington Banner (