Vermonters have a history of self-reliance, when it appears that the usual players are not willing to invest the funds needed to build the kind of economy and society that they have determined is right for their communities. Starting in the early 2000s, several ECFiber towns had determined that broadband telecommunications services were a necessary part of their continuing sustainability, if not growth. Broadband committees in several town reached out to wireless service providers and some even installed such infrastructure. But these proved to be unsatisfactory in the hilly wooded terrain of this part of Vermont. In early 2007, Burlington Telecom, which was operating a successful fiber-to-the-premmises (FTTP) network in the City of Burlington, responded to a Request for Information from the Town of Pomfret. The Executive Director, Tim Nulty, came out and made a presentation that convinced the attendees that fiber-optic technology was the solution they were looking for. In the fall of 2007, about 100 people from 14 towns met in Tunbridge Town Hall to begin the process of organizing an effort to bring fiber-optic based telecom services to this part of rural Vermont. ValleyNet agreed to provide the required seed capital and Tim Nulty left Burlington Telecom to serve as CEO of the ECFiber Project.
On Town Meeting Day 2008, 24 towns voted to join ECFiber. At the same time, ValleyNet spearheaded an effort to raise sufficient funds to build out the entire area ($90 million at that time), in the public capital markets. In August, 2008 23 towns signed the Inter-local Contract and by early September, the initiative’s underwriter, Oppenheimer & Co., had pledges of $70 million. One week later the international financial markets collapsed taking ECFiber’s initial funding effort with it.
ECFiber then submitted several funding proposals under the American Recovery and Reinvestment ACT (stimulus program), but with no operating history at that point, we were edged out by competing proposals from other local companies.
But undaunted, ECFiber returned to the Vermont roots of self-reliance and initiated our current program of grass-roots funding. With the advice of local counsel, ECFiber developed a program of issuing promissory notes in a private placement offering. The notes are offered in $2500 units. The first round of financing, in January,2011, raised $912,000, which enabled us to build our first 20+ mile loop through Royalton, Bethel and Barnard. Additional rounds of financing have brought total investment to nearly $5 million. More information on the investment opportunity can be found by clicking here.
As of December, 2013, with the funds raised to date, ECFiber expects to have 180 Miles of active fiber-optic network connected to its hub at 415 Waterman Road, Royalton, VT. Construction is in process (see service area map here) and subscribers and active customers are added daily and weekly. Service is available to all premises along the routes – one can be a customer without having been an investor. And ECFiber has benefitted from a few investors outside our service area who believe in what we are doing and support our efforts.
It is ECFiber’s intention, at some suitable point, to return to the capital markets to seek sufficient funding to build out the entire network in all member towns. Many ECFiber member towns were hard hit by Hurricane Irene or do not have a sufficient financial base within their population to support this capital-intensive effort. But our mission is to reach everyone, and we will continue to explore and employ every means at our disposal to achieve our goal and fulfill our mission.