Clock ticking on decision affecting Vermont’s telecom future

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The 90-day clock has started ticking for Gov. Phil Scott to make a key decision about the future of public safety communications — and Vermont’s broader telecommunications networks.

But some see the process of developing a recommendation for the governor as skewed toward one vendor and lacking in needed information.

Up for debate among members of Vermont’s Public Safety Broadband Commission is whether to urge Scott to sign on with an agreement struck earlier this year between the federal FirstNet program and telecom giant AT&T. The alternative is for Vermont to take up to $25 million in federal grant money and strike out on its own.

Here’s why it matters: A Vermont version of the national FirstNet project is expected to involve spending tens of millions of dollars on expanding broadband and cellphone networks in the state during the next 25 years. The winning bidder will get to use a valuable and until now reserved portion of the telecommunications spectrum, and could see a bump in subscribers as users such as police officers and volunteer firefighters switch to the chosen provider.

For the state, there’s an opportunity to expand broadband and cell service in areas where it’s currently spotty.

Rep. Robin Chesnut-Tangerman, P-Middletown Springs, and a member of the House Energy and Technology Committee, said in an interview that what AT&T is offering may be better suited to large urban areas than to Vermont.

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