Vermont’s Governor Peter Shumlin wanted to address his state’s long-standing connectivity deficit, so in 2011 he started his “Connect VT” initiative. In his inaugural address in January he said, “Vermont lags behind the developing world and ranks 46th among the 50 states in connectivity.”
Because profits are the driving force, the rugged land of Vermont and sparsely populated towns such as Victory and Granby remained with no electricity until 1964 – it was simply too expensive to outfit that terrain with a power grid. Laying cable for high-speed internet was simply out of the question.
Enter Governor Shumlin – he is a small business owner and entrepreneur that started in public service more than 30 years ago at age 24. As Governor, he is determined to bring Vermont into the 21st century by expanding broadband and cell phone service to every corner of the state. He realizes that without statewide internet Vermont will continue to lag behind. Without the high-speed internet structure available to his state, attracting businesses and jobs would be difficult, if not impossible.
To go along with the Governor’s “Connect VT” program he has promised $410 million in private, federal, and bonded capital for his broadband project. Now firms, such as FairPoint, VTel, and Burlington Telecom are working to provide high-speed internet for all 620,000 Vermonters.
This is where 21st century technology meets a 19th century work force, or should I say workhorse…or even more precisely, draft horse. In Vermont’s remote Northeast Kingdom, a 14-year-old draft horse, named Fred, and his owner, 66-year-old Claude Desmarais sometimes work seven days a week hauling miles of fiber optic cable for the communication lines. This horse is part of the “race” to provide Vermont with broadband cable to all in 2013.
Paul Clancy, supervisor of a line crew from FairPoint said, “It just saves so much work – it would take probably 15 guys to do what Fred and Claude can do. They can pull 5,000 feet of cable with no sweat.” The terrain is so rugged it would be impossible to drive a utility truck or the other equipment they would need to clear a way for the trucks…it would leave a path of destruction.
Often the horse and the older burly man will walk 30 feet off a back road in the brush pulling cable from a mammoth truck with a huge reel of cable, and the local residents like it that way. Desmarais told Reuters in an interview, “They like the idea of using a horse, instead of bringing in a bulldozer or something like that. Old Fred would do a lot less damage than a heavy bulldozer.”
Nothing stops the laying of the fiber optic cable. Not even four feet of Vermont snow can slow down Fred, who walks through the snow as if he was strolling through a pasture. As for Desmarais, he is slowing down at his age, but the only thing that stops him is snakes – he hates snakes.
There are a few other draft teams doing the same thing in Vermont, in fact, one of the other teams uses one of Desmarais’s horses. The workers are easy to please, they eat grass along the way and they are never too far from a stream for a drink (these are the horses, of course). Some days can last up to twelve hours, but at the end of the day, Fred and Desmarais head to their truck and trailer for the drive to Westmore, near the Canadian border, where he grew up. The next day, it starts all over again.
Vermont is lucky that their Governor Shumlin realizes the importance of covering his state with high-speed internet. The people will benefit at first, but then the entire state will prosper … it will give new businesses a reason to build there, old businesses a reason to stay. Education, health care, and jobs will all improve over time. We welcome Vermont to the 21st century.