VTA selects vendors for cellular coverage expansion

Vermont Business Magazine The Vermont Telecommunications Authority (VTA) has selected two vendors to complete projects that will significantly expand cellular coverage in unserved areas of the state. The expansion will include at least 450 miles of coverage along many state highways plus some well-traveled town roads. The VTA focus is on roadways with no cell service at all or where drop zones are significant.

The VTA has selected Vanu CoverageCo (CoverageCo), based in Massachusetts and Virginia, to build and operate the project’s cellular network. In 2011, CoverageCo was chosen by the VTA to install its small-cell technology on utility poles. These cellular sites provide targeted coverage along previously unserved roadways, as well as adjoining areas. Through VTA funding and its own private investment, CoverageCo has already deployed approximately 90 miles of cellular technology along highway corridors in Caledonia, Orange, and Windham Counties. With additional funding, this technology will provide cellular service along previously unserved road segments touching almost 60 towns, as far north as Canaan, and as far south as Readsboro.

CoverageCo, while not a retail cellular carrier, leases wireless spectrum owned by Sprint in order to provide coverage to customers of other carriers through standard roaming agreements. Sprint’s customers have been able to utilize CoverageCo’s cellular system from its inception in Vermont in 2013. Roaming agreements are also in place with T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless, as well as the leading Canadian cellular carriers. Verizon Wireless customers will be able to access service over the next three to six months. CoverageCo continues to seek agreements with additional providers. “We’re delighted to build upon our success with the VTA in bringing much needed cellular communications for Vermonters,” stated Richard Biby, CoverageCo CEO.

Through a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), this expansion includes areas within towns most impacted by Tropical Storm Irene and other 2011 flooding. The EDA grant also provides for individual cellular communication sites in nine town or village centers that suffered significant damage. These “resilient communication sites” will have ongoing back-up power as well as back-up satellite Internet service. They are planned for Halifax, Hancock, Norton, Readsboro, Rochester, Roxbury, Stockbridge, Townshend and Whitingham, and will go a long way to reduce the digital isolation so many towns experienced after Tropical Storm Irene.

“I am grateful for the EDA funding made available to Vermont following Tropical Storm Irene. Ensuring that Vermonters are prepared for another devastating storm and have the ability to communicate will be important for our residents, businesses and public safety teams. Expanding cellular coverage in our state, particularly in the more rural areas, continues to be a high priority,” Governor Peter Shumlin said. “I’d also like to extend my appreciation to Senator Leahy, Senator Sanders and Congressman Welch for their continued help in bringing important federal dollars to Vermont.”

The VTA has selected Northern Reliability, Inc, based in Waitsfield, Vermont, to design and install the electric power back-up for the nine resilient communication sites. The battery back-up power systems also feature a solar array. General Manager Charles “Charlie” Van Winkle stated, “We are very pleased that VTA chose Northern Reliability to deliver such a critical component and our team is looking forward to contributing to the success of this exciting project.”

Funding for the projects includes the EDA grant and VTA funding from state capital appropriations. Vendor contracts are contingent on approval by the EDA. CoverageCo will be providing additional infrastructure through its own private investment.

The VTA supports broadband and cellular expansion across Vermont. To stay up-to-date on projects, visit www.telecomvt.org and www.broadbandvt.org.

April 25, 2014 The Vermont Telecommunications Authority