November 8, 2023
SOUTH ROYALTON, VERMONT: ECFiber, Vermont’s first communications union district, has obtained a BB rating for its 2023 Series A bonds from S&P Global, the nation’s preeminent credit rating agency.
“This is a historic moment,” said Stan Williams, ECFiber’s municipal finance advisor and widely regarded as the architect of Vermont’s Communications Union District (CUD) model. “For the first time, a CUD will be issuing a rated bond, which means that many more investors will be competing to buy those bonds, lowering the interest rate. ECFiber has been managed for its entire existence to reach this goal. It’s hard to overstate the importance of this achievement.”
“This moment was made possible by over 16 years of grass-roots persistence, driven by a conviction that working together, our region could overcome the failure of the marketplace to offer decent broadband to all our homes and businesses,” said F. X. Flinn, who chairs the governing board. “Along the way, ECFiber had to figure out how to do this with local people and local money, and wound up inventing a new type of municipality, the CUD, which has no taxing power, only the ability to issue tax-exempt revenue bonds backed entirely by customer payments and with no recourse to the underlying assets.”
Earlier this summer ECFiber celebrated the completion of the original mission to build a 23-town network when it activated its White River Junction central hub. ECFiber still has network to build. “ECFiber expanded in 2020, adding 8 towns to bring its total to 31,” explained Tom Cecere, who manages the day-to-day business operations. “Now that our work in Hartford is focused on customer installations, our construction crews have moved on and are presently building in the Fairlees and Bradford. We plan to complete the entire network by the end of 2025.”
With the rating effective today, the District will issue a Series 2023A bond for $7.53 million. The proceeds will be used for ECFiber’s $30 million network completion plan, about 25% of which is in progress, and for which the Vermont Broadband Board has issued or approved about $16 million in ARPA-based grants. ECFiber intends to complete the network before the end of 2025, at which time it will have brought world-class broadband to more than 25% of the 80,000 unserved or underserved addresses in Vermont in 2012. This brings the District’s total bond issuance to $71.83 million.
ECFiber’s network is capable of delivering 1000mbps download and upload, a symmetrical gigabit, the entry point for saying that an ISP provides world-class broadband. Moreover, unlike for-profit providers, ECFiber’s business mission is to build out to every home and business on the grid in the member municipalities. Because ECFiber’s buildout process prioritized first bringing broadband to areas that were stuck with dial-up, the denser, cable-served areas were the last part of the network to be built – exactly the opposite approach of cable companies.
Virtually all of the funding has come from borrowed money: initially over 450 local residents invested $7 million, but after becoming a CUD in 2015, bonds became the principal financing tool. All original investors were repaid by 2018.
ECFiber is the trade name used by the East Central Vermont Telecommunications District. As a special purpose municipality akin to a water district, it is comprised of 31 member towns, each of which exercises a single vote on the District Governing Board through one or more appointed delegates. The District has no taxing authority and cannot call upon member town taxpayers for any support; all funding is through revenue bonds, business surplus or grants.
The District contracts with GWI Vermont, LLC, a subsidiary of Great Works Internet of Maine, which operates ISPs in a number of Maine municipalities, to design, build, and operate the business. GWI was assigned the contract the District had with ValleyNet, Inc. in late 2022, and all employees moved from being ValleyNet staff to being GWI staff. The District has no employees; its board members and officers serve without compensation.
ECFiber serves over 8,000 residential and business customers on over 1,700 miles of network. It participates in the Affordable Connectivity Program, and, through its Affordability Fund, offers private subsidies to low-income households.
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT
Chair, Governing Board (Town of Hartford Delegate)
East Central Vermont Telecommunications District (dba ECFiber)
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