Heads up Google Fiber: A rural Vermont telephone company might just have your $70 gigabit Internet offer beat.
Vermont Telephone Co. (VTel), whose footprint covers 17,500 homes in the Green Mountain State, has begun to offer gigabit Internet speeds for $35 a month, using a brand new fiber network. So far about 600 Vermont homes have subscribed.
VTel’s Chief Executive Michel Guite says he’s made it a personal mission to upgrade the company’s legacy phone network, which dates back to 1890, with fiber for the broadband age. The company was able to afford the upgrades largely by winning federal stimulus awards set aside for broadband. Using $94 million in stimulus money, VTel has invested in stringing 1,200 miles of fiber across a number of rural Vermont counties over the past year. Mr. Guite says the gigabit service should be available across VTel’s footprint in coming months.
VTel joins an increasing number of rural telephone companies who, having lost DSL share to cable Internet over the years, are reinvesting in fiber-to-the-home networks.
The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year that more than 700 rural telephone companies have made this switch, according to the Fiber to the Home Council, a trade group, and CalixInc. CALX +5.13%, a company that sells broadband equipment to cable and fiber operators. That comes as Google’s Fiber project, which began in Kansas City and is now extending to cities in Utah and Texas, has raised the profile of gigabit broadband and has captured the fancy of many city governments around the country.
“Google has really given us more encouragement,” Mr. Guite said. Mr. Guite said he was denied federal money for his upgrades the first time he applied, but won it the second time around–after Google had announced plans to build out Fiber.
Incumbent cable operators have largely downplayed the relevance of Google’s project, saying that it’s little more than a publicity stunt. They have also questioned whether residential customers even have a need for such speeds.
Mr. Guite says it remains to be seen whether what VTel is doing is a “sustainable model.” He admits that it’s going to be hard work ahead of VTel to educate customers about the uses of gigabit speeds. Much like Google Fiber in Kansas City, VTel has been holding public meetings in libraries and even one-on-one meetings with elderly folks to help them understand what gigabit Internet means, Mr. Guite said.