Town of St. Albans, VT

Northwest Communication Union District


Northwest Vermont Communication Union District is looking for volunteers to represent the Town of St. Albans.  The Board meets monthly on the 1st Thursday of the month at 6pm.  Currently, these meetings are being held remotely.  If you are interested in representing the Town of St. Albans, please provide a letter of interested to Jennifer Gray at j.gray@stalbanstown.com.  Below is information on the Northwest Vermont Communication Union District.

The Northwest Regional Planning Commission (NRPC) has been assisting the Northwest Vermont Communication Union District’s (NWCUD) efforts to bring high-quality, high-speed and reliable internet access to communities in Franklin and Grand Isle Counties.

Communications Union Districts (CUDs) were established by State Statute to address the need for bringing broadband services to communities that are currently unserved or underserved.

The formation of the NWCUD on August 3, 2020 has enabled communities to have representation and effect decision-making of the District including planning, accessing available broadband funding and capacity building, with the goal of building and managing infrastructure that will provide high-speed internet service. The benefits of high-speed internet are many including accessing online education opportunities for all ages, telehealth for connecting patients with medical providers, connecting rural businesses with clients and expanded marketplaces and connecting employers with employees.

A Communications Union District (CUD) is formed by two or more municipalities for the  purpose of building communications infrastructure under the authority of 30 V.S.A § 3051.  CUDs plan, contract, build, and manage the infrastructure that will provide high speed internet. They are governed by a board that consists of 1 representative from each member municipality.

The Towns of Enosburgh, Fairfax and Montgomery passed resolutions in July 2020 to form a CUD. The Northwest CUD held their first organizational meeting on August 3, 2020. Currently there are 14 municipalities that have joined the NWCUD through vote by the governing body: Alburgh Town, Alburgh Village, Bakersfield, Berkshire, Enosburgh Town, Enosburg Falls Village, Fairfax, Fairfield, Georgia, Highgate, Isle La Motte, Montgomery, Richford and Sheldon.

Benefits of Joining a CUD
The Northwest CUD will ensure that member municipalities benefit from over $100 million in state and federal funding that is available for broadband expansion. Specifically, the State has provided funding through:

  • Broadband Innovation Grant program which provides funding for broadband feasibility studies and business
  • 315 Grant Program for Pre-Construction and Capacity Building
  • 360 Broadband Funding (American Rescue Plan state funding)
  • Other state and private funding sources are also likely to be available to

The following is a summary of frequently asked questions regarding CUDs:

What do we gain by joining Northwest Communications Union District?
Your municipality gets a seat at the table as critical regional infrastructure is being planned for designed and built.

What’s the cost to be a part of the CUD? What’s the risk to the taxpayer and municipalities?
There are no direct costs to the taxpayer or the municipality. A CUD may ask a municipality to provide space for a communications plant used to store fiber optic cable, electronics and other assets required to operate the network.  Membership in a CUD poses no financial risk to the municipality or individual taxpayers, by state statute, meaning taxpayer dollars will not be used and if the CUD fails no liability falls to the member municipalities or taxpayers. The state statute (specifically – § 3056. Limitations; taxes; indebtedness and § 3083. Dissolution) makes it quite clear that the taxpayer and municipalities may not be held liable in any way for the debts of the CUD. All fiber assets and built infrastructure of the CUD are liable to seizure. (30 V.S.A. Chapter 82; see web address below).

How much will it cost to build the network?
We won’t know the estimated cost of the network until we know which municipalities are in  the CUD and a network design has been engineered. NRPC will work with the CUD to apply for grant funds to develop a business plan and conduct the initial network engineering for the CUD. Building a network is expensive but community based broadband projects like this qualify for large grants and very low interest loans. Vermont has also set aside a portion of the CARES Act recovery funds specifically for CUDs.

How will the money be raised and by who?
The CUD will be responsible for raising funds to build and operate the network through grants, loans, and bonds. In the next year there will be nearly $20 Billion in grants available through federal and state organizations like the FCC, USDA, EDA and Vermont Connectivity Fund. The CUD is well positioned to apply for these funds, and the State of Vermont has prioritized providing broadband grant funds to CUDs. Public private partnerships are also possible and other CUDs in the state have partnered with private operators to target and build new infrastructure.

How is the CUD governance handled?
By statute, the district is governed by a Governing Board made up of one representative, and one or more alternates, from every member municipality. Each municipality gets one vote on CUD decisions, with majority ruling in most cases. The CUD has the ability to establish an Executive Committee that could be delegated certain powers. Currently the NWCUD has three subcommittees: Finance, Project Management/Operations and Communications/Outreach. An Executive Committee will be formed shortly.

How can a municipality join the district?
Municipalities can join through vote by governing body at any time. The CUD will then vote to accept the member municipality at their next board meeting.

Can a municipality withdraw from the CUD?
A municipality can withdraw through the same means in which they joined the CUD. All assets in the municipality that are built by the CUD remain an asset of the CUD. Customers within that municipality can still receive internet services.

What’s next after a municipality votes to join a CUD?
Each municipality appoints a resident as a representative to serve on the CUD Board and an alternate. The Chair of the NWCUD Board will reach out to the representative and alternate regarding details of activities of the NWCUD, meeting schedule, subcommittees, etc. Board meetings are typically held on the first Thursday of each month.
Are there any reasons why a municipality would not want to join?
The primary burden on municipality will be to identify one or two residents interested in representing its residents on the CUD board. One reason not to join would be if a municipality does not foresee being able find representatives. Another reason might be to allow the municipality to pursue its own broadband solutions independently. However, nothing about joining the CUD precludes this from happening.

This is an exciting opportunity and the need could not be more urgent.  More information about CUDs can also be found on the Department of Public Service Website. More information on the NWCUD can be found at the Northwest CUD website.