Lyndon State, NCIC bring broadband to the NEK

Lyndon State, NCIC bring broadband to the NEK

Gallagher, Susan C

Steve and Amy Wheeler of Jed’s Maple Products in Westfield own one of the many businesses in the Northeast Kingdom that will celebrate when they have access to broadband Internet access.

“Wireless broadband would greatly increase our efficiency,” Amy Wheeler explains. “We currently have a very slow dial up service, and just retrieving orders from our Web site is a time consuming task. Broadband would allow us to access the Web in a more real-time environment than we are able to do now.”

Because they are in a rural area, the business, like many others in the Northeast Kingdom, does not have cable or DSL access. “We are really excited about being able to get high speed wireless here,” Steve said.

The couple is looking forward to the day when Northern Community Investment Corporation (NCIC) with the help of Lyndon State College Business students makes wireless broadband available in three years. NCIC is a nonprofit economic development agency headquartered in St Johnsbury.

The Wheelers are an example of a business that has gone ahead without broadband access, but NCIC President Jon Freeman says that many more turn away when they learn they will have to rely on dial up. He sites numerous studies that draw a direct correlation between job growth and broadband availability. Job growth, he says, will come from direct labor associated with deploying and maintaining the broadband investment and from indirect labor associated with creating services and applications, including supporting industries that would result once the network is deployed.

A conservative estimate predicts job growth in the NEK as a result of broadband availability at 1.5 percent or approximately 272 jobs, based on the 2000 census of nonfarm jobs. The total project is estimated to require a capital commitment of $5.5 million in Vermont alone (similar plans are underway for northern New Hampshire).

With $1.6 million in grant commitments in hand, the first step in the project was to get the lay of the land, literally. For this, NCIC President Jon Freeman turned to LSC Business Professor Mark Hilton. Hilton accepted the challenge and enlisted three students to create a detailed geo-referenced map of the area that would include every residence and business, every mountain, hill, river and road and existing Internet services.

To create such map, the three Business students, Rebecca Armstrong of Lyndonville, Alex Ibey of Barre and Lloyd MacCormack of Graniteville, set up shop in the GIS lab and learned the map-making software. Then, after collecting the data, they plotted the map.

The health care system will be another beneficiary of broadband. Andrea Lott, chief information officer and vice president for information services at Northeastern Regional Hospital in St Johnsbury, says that area hospitals have been working for some time to create networks for file sharing that rely on broadband availability. Such a system will allow the sharing of such large files as x-rays, mammograms and other diagnostic imaging, so that doctors can access a patient’s records remotely and confer on the results of such tests over a long distance.

With the first step in the wireless project completed, Freeman says that NCIC’s experience with the Lyndon students has been “wonderful… They communicated well and the quality of work is as good as we could have expected from anyone.” He says there are more projects he plans to approach LSC for in the future.

Partnerships such as this are a perfect fit with Lyndon’s commitment to experiential education. The experience LSC students gain from this work is invaluable. And they could well benefit from the increased job market in just a few years when they graduate.

Copyright Boutin-McQuiston, Inc. Dec 01, 2006

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