Vt. telecom firm gets $2M to expand wireless

MONTPELIER, Vt. -- Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said Thursday that cell telephone and data service in parts of rural Caledonia and Orange counties will improve, thanks to a $2 million federal grant to the telecommunications company VTel.

The company was among the winners of the Federal Communications Commission's first "mobility fund auction."

VTel will use the money to expand 4G wireless coverage along 941 miles of Vermont roads, primarily in the two counties but also in parts of Washington, Chittenden, and Addison counties and elsewhere in the state.

Shumlin said the expanded cell service is important but 100 percent cell coverage in the state is still years away.

"We have promised to have high-speed Internet access to every last mile by the end of 2013. We will have improved cell service, but it won't be universal by the end of 2013," Shumlin said. "We want to do everything we can to build out the network, but it's a huge challenge."

Shumlin noted that Vermont is one of the more challenging areas in the world to bring cell service because of its hills and valleys.

VTel President Michel Guite said the company's mission is to support the rural Vermont communities that wireless giants do not serve and to provide the service at low cost.

"To our small company this $2 million will be tremendously helpful," he said.

FCC requirements for the project say it must be completed within three years and the network must be made available to other providers for roaming so that as many consumers as possible can benefit from the new networks.