Christine Hallquist made a strong but unintentional cargument for universal broadband on Thursday. The former utility executive and gubernatorial candidate is now helming Kingdom Fiber, which is working to bring universal high-speed broadband to the Northeast Kingdom.
Hallquist was a witness at a Thursday hearing on broadband, appearing, as is everyone, via Zoom. And her testimony was delayed by several minutes because of trouble with her Starlink internet connection.
Once she finally managed to be heard, Hallquist made a strong case for achieving universal broadband through the “communication union districts” around the state, including her own.
(She also wins the imaginary “See, I Told You So” award. Several years ago, she was talking up the electric utility infrastructure as the best, easiest and cheapest delivery system for broadband. Lo and behold, that’s the backbone for getting high-speed internet to every corner of the state.)
Broadband is no longer an unrealized dream but a near-future reality, thanks to the Covid pandemic. With many Vermonters working and schooling their children from home, broadband suddenly became a necessity. And the federal government’s Covid relief packages have injected billions into the nationwide broadband project, with hundreds of millions flowing into Vermont’s effort.
But the devil is in the details, and those details are being worked out right now in the Legislature. Anyone interested in broadband should be paying close attention, and giving their lawmakers an earful.
In purely political terms, the Covid pandemic is the best thing that’s ever happened to Gov. Phil Scott. He got to be seen as a decisive leader simply by outperforming the likes of Donald Trump. Throughout the 2020 campaign, he enjoyed a twice-weekly platform on live statewide television and radio. He absolutely dominated every news cycle, and walked to victory in something bigger than a landslide.
And now, state government is swimming in federal relief cash — with more likely on the way. Trump’s CARES Act provided the equivalent of 20 percent of Vermont’s GDP. President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act is pumping in even more. And if Biden gets his infrastructure bill through, Vermont will get a third massive infusion in less than two years’ time.
The CARES Act alone floated Vermont through 2020 “in aggregate,” as state economist Jeffrey Carr put it. There was pain aplenty, to be sure. But there were winners as well, and the impact was greatly softened by the federal government’s ability (and willingness) to deficit spend. The governor is dead set against raising revenue or increasing the size of state government, but he’s perfectly happy to take whatever the feds will give him.
On Tuesday, Scott unveiled his billion-dollar plan to use a big chunk of the federal ARPA money. It includes just about everything on everybody’s wish list, and provides a huge boost to state initiatives that Scott insisted we couldn’t afford on our own. And the money will be spent over the next four years, which will make it extremely difficult to run against Scott in the next two cycles.
Ah, Vermont’s esteemed Secretary of State… champion of transparency, guardian against election tampering, epitome of the principled politician…
Turns out, he can fall for an Internet scam just like the rest of us.
You may have heard about the Facebook ad for discount chain Costco, which offered customers a $75 coupon if they reposted the ad and provided some personal information.
Err… problem is, it was a fake. The real Costco wasn’t involved, and there was no $75 offer. But a lot of people fell for it, despite the fact that this same offer (or a very similar one) has been posted — and debunked — multiple times in the past.
One of those suckers: Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos.