The Vermont Statutes Online
The Vermont Statutes Online have been updated to include the actions of the 2023 session of the General Assembly.
NOTE: The Vermont Statutes Online is an unofficial copy of the Vermont Statutes Annotated that is provided as a convenience.
§ 8081. Purpose
In recognition of the historic level of broadband funding currently available to the State and the critical need for broadband access and adoption, it is the purpose of this chapter to establish the Vermont Community Broadband Fund to support policies and programs designed to accelerate community efforts that advance the State’s goal of achieving universal access to reliable, high-quality, affordable, fixed broadband and to establish the Vermont Community Broadband Board to coordinate, facilitate, support, and accelerate the development and implementation of universal community broadband solutions. (Added 2021, No. 71, § 2, eff. June 8, 2021.)
§ 8082. Definitions
As used in this chapter:
(1) “Board” means the Vermont Community Broadband Board.
(2) “Broadband service” or “broadband” means a mass-market retail service by wire or radio in Vermont that provides the capability to transmit data to and receive data from all or substantially all Internet endpoints, including any capabilities that are incidental to and enable the operation of the communications service, but excluding dial-up Internet access service.
(3) “Department” means the Department of Public Service.
(4) “Eligible provider” means:
(A) a communications union district;
(B) a small communications carrier; or
(C) an Internet service provider working in conjunction with a communications union district to expand broadband service to unserved and underserved locations as part of a plan to achieve universal broadband coverage in the district.
(5) “Fund” means the Vermont Community Broadband Fund established by this chapter.
(6) “Internet service provider” means a business that provides broadband Internet access service to any person in Vermont.
(7) “Location” means an E-911 business or residential address connected to the electric power grid.
(8) “Municipality” means a city, town, incorporated village, or unorganized town or gore.
(9) “Served” means a location that has access to broadband service capable of speeds of at least 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.
(10) “Small communications carrier” means:
(A) a carrier that has elected to be regulated under subsection 227d(a) of this title; or
(B) an Internet service provider that operates in not more than five counties.
(11) “Underserved” means a location that only has access to broadband service capable of speeds of at least 4 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload but less than 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.
(12) “Universal service plan” means a plan for providing each unserved and underserved location in a communications union district or in a municipality that was not part of a communications union district prior to June 1, 2021 access to broadband service capable of speeds of at least 100 Mbps download and 100 Mbps upload.
(13) “Unserved” means a location that only has access to broadband capable of speeds of less than 4 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload. (Added 2021, No. 71, § 2, eff. June 8, 2021.)
§ 8083. Vermont Community Broadband Fund
(a) There is created a special fund in the State Treasury to be known as the “Vermont Community Broadband Fund.” Expenditures from the Fund shall be made only to implement and effectuate the policies, purposes, and programs established in this chapter. The Fund shall be composed of any monies from time to time appropriated to the Fund by the General Assembly, transferred to the Fund pursuant to subsection 7523(b) of this title, or received from any other source, private or public, subject to the provisions of 32 V.S.A. § 5. Unexpended balances and any earnings shall remain in the Fund for use in accord with the purposes of this chapter.
(b) Authorized expenditures from the Fund include:
(1) grants pursuant to the Broadband Preconstruction Grant Program established in section 8085 of this chapter;
(2) grants pursuant to the Broadband Construction Grant Program established in section 8086 of this chapter;
(3) funding for communications workforce training and development, in consultation with the Commissioner of Labor, to the extent such funds are not available from other funding sources;
(4) funding for a comprehensive, statewide fiber-optic engineering design as specified in subdivision 8084(a)(6)(I) of this chapter;
(5) administrative expenses of grant recipients in an amount determined by the Board, subject to applicable federal law and guidance; and
(6) upon approval by the General Assembly, up to $1,500,000.00 annually to fund the operational expenses of the Board and the Department to the extent the Department’s expenses support the work of the Board.
(c) Expenditures from the Fund shall be authorized by the Board. (Added 2021, No. 71, § 2, eff. June 8, 2021; amended 2021, No. 185 (Adj. Sess.), § E.233, eff. July 1, 2022.)
§ 8084. Vermont Community Broadband Board
(a) Vermont Community Broadband Board.
(1) There is created within the Department of Public Service the Vermont Community Broadband Board. The Board shall have approval authority with respect to budget development, program design, grant awards, and all other funding allocations pursuant to this chapter.
(2) The Board shall consist of five members as follows:
(A) two members appointed by the Governor who shall not be employees or officers of the State at the time of the appointment and at least one of whom shall have expertise in the area of finance and one of whom shall be selected by the Governor to serve as the Chair;
(B) one member appointed by the Speaker of the House who shall not be a member of the General Assembly at the time of the appointment and who shall have expertise in the area of broadband deployment in rural, high-cost areas;
(C) one member appointed by the Senate Committee on Committees who shall not be a member of the General Assembly at the time of the appointment and who shall have expertise in the area of communications and electric utility law and policy; and
(D) one member appointed by the Vermont Communications Union District Association.
(3) The members may not be persons with a financial interest in or owners, employees, or members of a governing board of an Internet service provider or a communications union district; however, this provision shall not be construed to disqualify a member who has ownership in a mutual fund, exchange-traded fund, pension plan, or similar entity that owns shares in such enterprises as part of a broadly diversified portfolio. Members shall serve terms of three years beginning on February 1 of the year of appointment; however, the members first appointed by the Governor shall serve initial terms of four years, the member first appointed by the Speaker of the House shall serve an initial term of three years, and the member first appointed by the Committee on Committees shall serve an initial term of two years. A vacancy shall be filled by the respective appointing authority for the balance of the unexpired term. A member may be reappointed. A member may be removed for cause only.
(4) At its initial organizational meeting, and annually thereafter at the first meeting following February 1, the Board shall elect from among its members a vice chair. The Board may elect officers as it may determine. Meetings shall be held at the call of the Chair or at the request of two members. A majority of sitting members shall constitute a quorum, and action taken by the Board under the provisions of this chapter may be authorized by a majority of the members present and voting at any regular or special meeting.
(5) Members are entitled to a per diem in the amount of $250.00 for each day spent in the performance of their duties and each member shall be reimbursed for his or her reasonable expenses incurred in carrying out his or her duties under this chapter.
(6) The Board shall have all the powers necessary and convenient to carry out and effectuate the purposes and provisions of this chapter, including the power to:
(A) coordinate and facilitate community broadband efforts;
(B) provide resources to communications union districts in the form of administrative and technical support;
(C) provide grants for the preconstruction and construction costs of broadband projects;
(D) facilitate partnerships between communications union districts and their potential partners;
(E) develop policies or recommend to the General Assembly programs that promote a strong communications workforce in Vermont;
(F) develop policies or recommend to the General Assembly programs that promote access to affordable broadband service plans;
(G) consult with the Vermont Economic Development Board and the Vermont Municipal Bond Bank with regard to financing community broadband projects;
(H) identify and publish State, federal, nonprofit, and any other broadband funding opportunities;
(I) contract for a comprehensive, statewide fiber-optic engineering design to identify strategies that maximize fiber-optic buildout efficiency and ensure resiliency and interoperability of all existing fiber-optic networks built with public or ratepayer funds, and that takes into consideration all proposed publicly funded fiber-optic projects, the development of which shall not be required or impede the disbursement of grants under this chapter;
(J) provide input to the Department of Public Service on the development of the State’s Telecommunications Plan; and
(K) do any and all things necessary or convenient to effectuate the purposes and provisions of this chapter and to carry out its purposes and exercise the powers given and granted in this chapter.
(7) The Department shall provide the Board with administrative services.
(8) All meetings of the Board shall be open to the public and conducted in accordance with the Vermont Open Meeting Law. All records of the Board are subject to the Vermont Public Records Act. Any records or information produced or acquired by the Board that are trade secrets or confidential business information shall be exempt from public inspection and copying pursuant to 1 V.S.A. § 317(c)(9).
(b) Executive Director.
(1) The Vermont Community Broadband Fund shall have an Executive Director. The initial Executive Director shall be appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the Senate, and subsequent executive directors shall be hired by the Board. The Executive Director shall be an employee of the Department of Public Service. The Executive Director shall be overseen and managed by the Board and shall serve as its chief administrative officer. The Executive Director shall direct and supervise the Board’s administrative affairs and technical activities in accordance with Board policies. In addition to any other duties necessary for carrying out the purposes of this chapter, the Executive Director shall:
(A) work with the Board in developing and implementing the programs established by this chapter;
(B) approve all accounts of the Board, including accounts for salaries, per diems, and allowable expenses of any employee or consultant thereof and expenses incidental to the operation of the Board;
(C) make recommendations to the Board for grant awards or other forms of financial or technical assistance authorized by this chapter;
(D) make an annual report to the Board documenting the actions of the Board and such other reports as the Board may request; and
(E) perform such other duties as may be directed by the Board in the carrying out of the purposes and provisions of this chapter.
(2) The Executive Director may retain or employ technical experts and other officers, agents, employees, and contractors as are necessary to give effect to the purposes of this chapter, including in the areas of finance, network planning, engineering and technical design, and grant writing, and may fix their qualifications, duties, and compensation. The Executive Director shall oversee and manage the Rural Broadband Technical Assistance Specialist created in subsection 7523(b) of this title. The Executive Director is authorized to hire additional full-time employees pursuant to this subdivision who shall be part of the classified service created in 3 V.S.A. chapter 13.
(c) Administration. The Fund shall be administered by the Department. The Department is authorized to expend monies from the Fund in accordance with this chapter. The Commissioner shall make all decisions necessary to implement this chapter and administer the Fund except those decisions committed to the Board under this section. The Department shall ensure an open public process in the administration of the Fund for the purposes established in this chapter.
(d) Grant administration redesignation. The Board shall be redesignated as the responsible entity for administering the $1,000,000.00 grant award to the Department of Public Service by the Northern Border Regional Commission for the purpose of supporting communications union districts. Any position funded by the grant shall be overseen and managed by the Board in a manner that is consistent with grant terms and conditions. (Added 2021, No. 71, § 2, eff. June 8, 2021.)
§ 8085. Broadband Preconstruction Grant Program
(a) There is established the Community Broadband Preconstruction Grant Program to be administered by the Board. The purpose of the Program is to provide grants to communications union districts for preconstruction costs related to broadband projects that are part of a universal service plan.
(b) As used in this section, “preconstruction costs” include expenses for feasibility studies, business planning, pole data surveys, engineering and design, and make-ready work associated with the construction of broadband networks, including consultant, legal, and administrative expenses, and any other costs deemed appropriate by the Board.
(c) To ensure an equitable distribution of funds under this Program and to encourage collaborative work among communications union districts, grant awards shall be scalable and shall be commensurate with the size of a broadband project as determined by the project’s service area, road mileage, the number of unserved or underserved locations, or any other metric deemed appropriate by the Board. In addition, the Board may develop standards for the disbursement of grant funds in a manner that both supports the efficient and timely use of funds and also ensures accountability. (Added 2021, No. 71, § 2, eff. June 8, 2021.)
§ 8086. Broadband Construction Grant Program
(a) There is established the Broadband Construction Grant Program to finance the broadband projects of eligible providers that are part of a universal service plan.
(b) In evaluating grant proposals under this chapter, the Board shall give priority to broadband projects that:
(1) leverage existing private resources and assets, with a high priority given to partnerships between a communications union district and a distribution utility;
(2) demonstrate project readiness;
(3) provide broadband service that complies with the consumer protection and net neutrality standards established in 3 V.S.A. § 348;
(4) support low-income or disadvantaged communities;
(5) promote geographic diversity of fund allocations;
(6) provide consumers with affordable service options; and
(7) include public broadband assets that can be shared by multiple service providers and that can support a variety of public purposes.
(c) The Board shall establish policies and standard grant terms and conditions that:
(1) reflect payment schedules that ensure maximum accountability;
(2) adopt an industry-accepted engineering standard that promotes network reliability, resiliency, and interoperability;
(3) establish standards for recouping grant funds and transferring ownership of grant-funded network assets if a grantee materially fails to comply with the terms and conditions of a grant;
(4) establish a continuity of operations plan applicable to a network owned by a communications union district that, among other things, contemplates the Board assuming operational control of a network if necessary to maintain uninterrupted broadband service;
(5) prohibit the sale or transfer of grant-funded network assets without the prior written approval of the Board;
(6) allow an applicant to seek reconsideration of an adverse Board decision;
(7) ensure project completion within a reasonable period of time and consistent with applicable federal law and guidance; and
(8) comply with Administrative Bulletin No. 5, the Agency of Administration’s policy for grant issuance and monitoring, and Administrative Bulletin 3.5, the Agency of Administration’s policy for procurement and contracting procedures, as appropriate, and any other requirements of federal law and guidance, if applicable.
(d) Before the Board awards a grant under this section, it shall determine that the applicant has produced a viable business plan for its proposed broadband project, which takes into consideration network engineering and design, labor needs and availability, supply-chain contingencies for equipment and materials, make-ready work, and any other relevant capital and operational expenses.
(e) The Board shall not award a grant to an eligible provider who is not a communications union district unless the Board determines that the provider’s universal service plan does not conflict with or undermine the universal service plan of an existing communications union district.
(f) The Board may provide a grant to an eligible provider that enables the provision of broadband service in a geographic area currently served, provided that:
(1) the proposed project is a cost-effective method for providing broadband service to nearby unserved and underserved locations that is capable of speeds of at least 100 Mbps download and 100 Mbps upload;
(2) any overbuild is incidental to the overall objectives of the universal service plan required for funding under this Program; and
(3) before awarding the grant, the Board makes a reasonable effort to distinguish served and unserved or underserved locations within the geographic area, including recognition and consideration of known or probable service extensions or upgrades.
(g) It is the intent of the General Assembly that a broadband project financed under this Program demonstrates an economically sustainable business model that ultimately will be eligible for financing in the private or municipal bond market.
(h)(1) The Board shall require a communications union district that borrows funds for the purpose of financing a broadband project to immediately provide written notice to the Board in the event the communications union district becomes aware that it is at risk of financial insolvency or of defaulting on the payment of principal or interest on a loan when due. The Board, in turn, shall promptly provide written notice to the Governor, the Treasurer, and the Joint Fiscal Committee of such risk of insolvency or default and shall include in its notification a description of any potential ramifications of the insolvency or default under the terms and conditions of the applicable loan.
(2) If a communications union district defaults on the payment of principal or interest on a loan secured by grant-funded network assets, such assets may not be transferred or sold for a period of 180 calendar days commencing on the day the loan became past due. To the extent reasonably practicable, it is the intent of the General Assembly that publicly owned network assets remain publicly owned assets. (Added 2021, No. 71, § 2, eff. June 8, 2021; amended 2021, No. 179 (Adj. Sess.), §§ 19, 20, eff. July 1, 2022.)
§ 8087. Centralized resources for communications union districts
(a) The Board shall provide centralized resources and technical and administrative support to communications union districts with respect to the planning, development, and implementation of broadband projects.
(b) In carrying out the purpose of this section, the Board shall:
(1) develop standardized forms, contracts, network business and design models, and templates for use by any communications union district;
(2) assist communications union districts with identifying and negotiating with potential partners, including with respect to the development of a memorandum of understanding or other form of legally-binding commitment pertaining to a broadband project;
(3) when authorized by one or more communications union districts, apply for grants, loans, permits, licenses, certificates, or approvals, or enter into contractual arrangements for goods or services on behalf of or jointly with a communications union district or districts;
(4) assist communications union districts with pursuing route identification for fiber-optic infrastructure and with obtaining pole surveys and negotiating pole attachments;
(5) assist communications union districts with completing grant and loan applications for funding opportunities that exist outside this chapter; and
(6) assist communications union districts with obtaining access to fiber-optic networks owned by the State or by an electric distribution utility, where appropriate. (Added 2021, No. 71, § 2, eff. June 8, 2021.)
§ 8088. Interagency cooperation and assistance
Other departments and agencies of the State government, including the E-911 Board, shall assist and cooperate with the Board and shall make available to it information and data as needed to assist the Board in carrying out its duties. The Secretary of Administration shall establish protocols and agreements among the Board and departments and agencies of the State for this purpose. Nothing in this section shall be construed to waive any privilege or protection otherwise afforded to the data and information under exemption to the Public Records Act or under other laws due solely to the fact that the information or data is shared with the Board pursuant to this section. (Added 2021, No. 71, § 2, eff. June 8, 2021.)
§ 8089. Annual report
(a) Notwithstanding 2 V.S.A. § 20(d), on or before January 15 of each year, the Board shall submit a report of its activities pursuant to this chapter for the preceding year to the Senate Committees on Finance and on Natural Resources and Energy, the House Committee on Environment and Energy, and the Joint Information Technology Oversight Committee. The report shall include an operating and financial statement covering the Board’s operations during the year, including a summary of all grant awards and contracts and agreements entered into by the Board. In addition, the report shall include a description of the progress each start-up communications union district has made in achieving long-term financial sustainability that is not dependent upon public funding, an update on its efforts to secure additional federal funds for broadband deployment, and progress made towards meeting the State’s goal of ensuring every E-911 location has access to broadband capable of delivering a minimum of 100 Mbps symmetrical service as required in subdivision 202c(b)(10) of this title.
(b) As part of its first annual report, the Board shall include recommended legislation for policies and programs not authorized under this chapter but consistent with its purpose or for any other policies and programs it deems appropriate. The report shall include recommendations concerning increased access to and use of fiber-optic networks owned by the State or by an electric distribution utility in furtherance of the goals of this chapter. In addition, and with input from relevant stakeholders, the Board shall make recommendations on whether and to what extent authorized expenditures under the Fund should be expanded to include:
(1) funding for equipment replacement in the Department of Libraries’ FiberConnect Network;
(2) funding for building-wide Wi-Fi installations at multi-unit affordable housing owned by nonprofits and housing authorities for the purpose of providing free broadband service to the residents thereof;
(3) funding for digital inclusion efforts, such as subsidized customer equipment installations and broadband service, grants for long-term affordability planning, and outreach and digital literacy training;
(4) funding for co-worker spaces;
(5) additional funding for communications workforce development initiatives; and
(6) funding for any other broadband programs or initiatives. (Added 2021, No. 71, § 2, eff. June 8, 2021.)
§ 8089a. Sunset; transfer plan
(a) The Fund and Board shall cease to exist on July 1, 2029.
(b) As part of its annual report submitted on or before January 15, 2029, the Board shall develop a plan for transferring its assets, liabilities, and legal and contractual obligations to another appropriate State entity. The Board may include in its report a recommendation regarding the continued existence of the Board beyond its statutory sunset date. (Added 2021, No. 71, § 2, eff. June 8, 2021.)