Unlocking Vermont's Digital Future

Posted on 04/05/24 by Laura McDonough

Vermont has a historic opportunity to expand access to affordable, reliable, high-speed internet to everyone in the state, no matter where they live or their circumstances.

Access, however, depends on more than wires, poles and other pieces of infrastructure. It also depends on making sure that internet service is affordable, and that all Vermonters have the tools and the skills to use it.

We are proud to say that Vermont just had its digital equity plan approved by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The approval is the first step in unlocking federal funding that can help underserved communities – including older Vermonters, veterans, low-income families, tribal communities, people living in rural areas, and others – to connect to the internet.

The plan was developed after intense collaboration with stakeholders, partner organizations and public participation. Through that work, the Vermont Community Broadband Board found that while Vermont has made significant strides in recent years to close digital gaps, it continues to face numerous challenges, especially in rural areas. Over half of state survey respondents reported that their broadband costs are too high. They also found that nearly 30 percent of the Vermont population does not use a personal or tablet computer and that 73 percent of survey respondents expressed an interest in digital skills development.

AARP Vermont, on behalf of our 112,000 members, applauds the approval of our state’s plan to expand high-speed internet access and adoption across our state. High-speed internet is not a luxury. It is a necessity for older Vermonters. Better connectivity allows them to navigate online government services, participate in virtual medical services, find and maintain employment, meet daily needs, and connect socially. In short, it will improve the quality of life and help adults aged 50 and older safely age in place.

This plan is Vermont’s blueprint to tear down the digital divide in our state. Several key strategies have been identified to reduce barriers to internet access. Through implementation, Vermont will pursue efforts to improve overall broadband availability, affordability, digital skills, and device access, and sustain these efforts over time. This is no small task.

While putting this comprehensive plan together is a commendable start, there is still much work ahead of us. AARP Vermont looks forward to working with the Vermont Community Broadband Board and other key stakeholders toward the successful implementation of this plan. Like other traditionally underserved groups, too many older adults have been left behind for too long.

We must also maintain our focus on ensuring that internet is affordable. As Vermont’s plan demonstrates, wires alone can’t solve the problem of connectivity, which is why AARP remains committed to the continuation of the federal Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides direct support to Vermonters to help them afford internet service.

Eligible households can receive a benefit that provides a $30-$75 per month discount on the cost of high-speed internet. For many families, that can cover the entire cost of their service. There are over 26,000 Vermont households on the Affordable Connectivity Program and over 48% of these are headed by a resident 50 or older.

Right now, the program is at risk of running out of money in May. As Vermont – working in collaboration with regional and local partners – works to close the digital divide, it is our hope that Congress will maintain this critical program. Older adults in Vermont are counting on action.

This story is provided by AARP Vermont. Visit the AARP Vermont page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.

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