New fiber optic internet service from Consolidated Communications is now available to some 5,000 homes in the Montpelier area, and the early reports from new users on Front Porch Forum and elsewhere regarding price and reliability are positive. The service will soon be available throughout Montpelier and in parts of Berlin, East Montpelier, Middlesex, and Worcester.
Last December, Consolidated announced plans to upgrade 1.6 million locations across its 23-state footprint to symmetrical, multi-gigabit speeds over a five-year period, including more than one million locations in northern New England.
“In Vermont, the company will invest nearly $140 million over the next five years to bring fiber internet directly to 200,000 Vermonters,” Shannon Sullivan, Corporate Communications Manager for Consolidated, said in an email. “Of those, 50,000 locations are on track to be completed by the end of 2021.”
Overall, Consolidated plans to install more than 2,000 miles of fiber optic cable in Vermont. The new service, recently opened up in parts of Montpelier and Brattleboro, should be available by mid-year in all of the greater Montpelier area that will eligible in the near term (to see if your address will be served, call Consolidated at 866-903-0958).
Prior to the new Consolidated fiber optic cable being strung on local telephone poles, the main options for an internet connection in Montpelier and portions of surrounding towns were a copper-wire based DSL service from Consolidated and a coaxial cable service from Xfinity. Consolidated says it will continue offering DSL internet service to those who want it, but claims the fiber optic service is superior.
Other local options include Skylink (a relatively expensive satellite service) and two wireless 4G/LTE services, Cloud Alliance and VTel Wireless. In addition, T-Mobile has recently begun offering a 5G home internet service to some homes in the area.
With the pandemic, the importance of reliable broadband service in Vermont has taken on even more importance because it provides a way for people to work or attend classes from home. Local real estate brokers say the availability of good internet service is now an important feature for many buyers looking for a new home. The emergence of new internet options and competition among providers is generally seen as desirable.
Vermont has been seeking to expand broadband service for some time, but progress has been slow. Federal stimulus funds to expand internet service will soon be flowing to the states, however, and the Vermont legislature has been debating how to spend the funds.
According to Sullivan, Consolidated has been “actively participating in the broadband fund discussions in the Vermont legislature, and we hope there is a path for Consolidated to directly apply for funding when it is available. As these opportunities become available, it moves us toward our goal of expanding broadband access to underserved areas.”
Whether or not private companies such as Consolidated will be eligible for state funding is unknown at this point, but it is likely funding will be available to communication union districts. A communications union district is an organization of two or more Vermont towns that join together as a municipal entity to build communication infrastructure, such as internet service.
CV Fiber is a communications union district designed to eventually provide fiber optic service in 20 towns in Central Vermont, including Montpelier, Barre, and most surrounding towns. Created in 2018, CV Fiber is still ramping up and is seeking volunteers for four of its committees: Communications, Finance, Planning and Development, and Policy. CV Fiber’s website says it is starting to plan projects in East Montpelier/Calais, Moretown, and Roxbury/Northfield. However, there is no timeline shown on the website.
CV Fiber says on the website that “fiber-optics is the best technology in the world at delivering Internet service to homes and businesses. Fiber Internet is up to 200x faster than other technologies commonly offered at this time.”
For now, Consolidated Communications appears to be the only fiber optic option available locally. The current speed offerings and pricing from Consolidated are as follows, according to Sullivan: 50 Mbps for $35 per month, 250 Mbps for $60 per month and 1 GB for $70 per month. The Consolidated website says the advertised speeds are for a wired connection, and that wireless speeds can vary.
The service is symmetrical, which means download and upload speeds are the same. With coaxial cable, upload speeds are generally much slower than download speeds. The Consolidated website states that its current Montpelier area rates “are valid for one year. After one year, standard rates apply.”
The rates include the rental of a wireless router, but taxes are extra. A salesperson said installation is now being scheduled about a week out, where available, and that some promotions include two months of free service.
Stan Brinkerhoff of Montpelier is apparently an early adopter of the Consolidated service. He posted earlier this month on Front Porch Forum: “So far the service has been perfect, except for about 30 minutes of intermittent stability last week when I had to swap to a cell phone to complete calls. The speed is consistently fast throughout the day (900 mb upload and download). I am very happy with the Consolidated Communications product. I have not had to call technical support since I purchased and had it installed.”
Another Montpelier resident who had the fiber optic service installed and thought it was fast cautioned that the fiber optic wire that comes into the house is fragile. She destroyed hers five hours after installation by moving heavy furniture on to it.
Asked about the issue, Consolidated’s Sullivan responded by email: “While a fiber connection is more reliable and the technology is more resilient, fiber optic cables can be delicate. Though this situation is rare, one can protect cables with a standard indoor wiring cover that can be found at your local hardware store.”
For those interested in streaming services, Sullivan said Consolidated partners with several firms, including Fubo, Philo, and AT&T, to provide customers with entertainment options for an additional price. In Montpelier, local television channels can be found on the AT&T service, she said.