Reconnected After Irene, Granville Pushes To Close Digital Divide

12/19/11 7:34AM By Kirk Carapezza
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VPR/Kirk Carapezza
Granville has lost most of its manufacturing industry, such as the Bowl Mill that once buzzed in the center of town. Many residents blame the lack of high-speed Internet for depriving them of new industry.

(Host) Granville was one of 13 communities that Tropical Storm Irene's floodwaters completely disconnected from the rest of the state in August.

Since then, the Addison County town has been reconnected physically. But as VPR's Kirk Carapezza reports, Granville still faces a gaping digital divide.

(Carapezza) As the sun sinks over the Granville Gulf outside, inside the Granville Post Office post master Nancy Demeres collects mail from a steady stream of customers.

Nationally, the Postal Service is struggling to reinvent itself in the face of competition from email and the Internet.

And Demeres says lack of high speed is actually one of the reasons her office has shown up on a list of post offices slated for possible closure.

(Demeres) "Almost everything is on the internet. We transmit our reports and we have email."

(Carapezza) Like the rest of Granville, the post office gets the Internet on a dial-up connection. Consider the online job training she was supposed to do last year.

VPR/Kirk Carapezza
Granville post master Nancy Demeres says lack of high-speed connectivity is actually one of the reasons her office has shown up on a list of post offices slated for possible closure.
(Demeres) "And to try to do it in this office, two hours worth of training video took 23 hours to actually download them so I had to get a DVD or go to another office that had high-speed."

(Carapezza) These are the symptoms of a small town nestled in a narrow valley without broadband or cell service.

Lack of telecommunications still isolates rural towns like Granville.

It long ago lost most of its manufacturing industry, such as the Bowl Mill that once buzzed across the street from the post office. And many residents blame the lack of high-speed Internet for depriving them of new industry.

FairPoint Communications says it's committed to broadband for Granville. Mike Smith is FairPoint's Vermont president.

(Smith) "We went out of our way to promise to build in that community. No one else would step up to the plate to do that, but we did."

(Carapezza) Granville residents are frustrated that FairPoint hasn't fulfilled its years-long promise. Smith says it will happen.

(Smith) "I think what you will find is that by the end of the year Granville will have high-speed internet."

(Carapezza) But Chris Campbell says it'll be a challenge. He's the executive director of the Vermont Telecommunications Authority. He says the state's broadband map still looks like a piece of Swiss cheese, with what he calls many high-cost, low-density holes.

(Campbell) "We're really at that slice of the state that has relatively high cost to reach while at the same time having relatively few customers. So it's just a difficult business proposition."

(Carapezza) That leaves residents in Granville to drive 15 to 20 minutes in any direction to get high-speed Internet.

VPR/ Kirk Carapezza
Business owner Asah Rowles with her daughter comes to the Warren Store 15 minutes from Granville to use the free high-speed wi-fi.
On the other side of the valley, the evening sky fades to black as Granville business owner Asah Rowles and her kids shop at the Warren Store.

She comes here to use the free high-speed wi-fi. 

(Rowles) "We are just lacking that in a major way and it makes it very hard for us to conduct our daily lives and daily business."

(Carapezza) Rowles says she needs a good connection to run her bicycle shop from home, and to lead Granville's recovery from Tropical Storm Irene. She says the storm demonstrated the need.

(Rowles) "In the 24 hours after Irene, we had no lines, no power and we had to hike to a mountaintop just to get a single bar. So we quickly learned that we need some sort of connection that isn't completely relying on FairPoint's lines."

(Carapezza) Now, four months after the storm town officials want Governor Peter Shumlin to get involved. Last week, Shumlin said the state would deliver on its promise of universal broadband by the end of 2013. Granville hopes the next devastating storm won't come first.

For VPR News, I'm Kirk Carapezza.

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