Monday, December 17, 2007

Closing the Digital Divide: Vermont's e-State Initiative

On a recent trip to Vermont, while scanning FM radio somewhere near Bellows Falls, I came across an interview with Lieutenant Governor, Brian Dubie. In the interview he described an integrated mobile satellite and terrestrial communications pilot project Vermont is involved with in partnership with TerreStar Networks. This partnership is in response to Vermont Governor Jim Douglas' e-State Initiative to provide universal cellular and broadband coverage everywhere and anywhere within Vermont’s borders.

If you've been to Vermont you know it is rural - basically lots of mountains with homes and businesses spread out across the state. Cell service is poor in many areas along with broadband availability.

The TerreStar Networks project will be an interesting pilot that should provide broadband speeds to even the most rural areas of Vermont. Here's a piece from the company website:

The company's first satellite, TerreStar-I, currently under construction by Space Systems/Loral, will be the world's largest and most powerful commercial satellite ever deployed. With an antenna almost 60 feet across, and up to 500 dynamically-configurable spot beams, TerreStar-I will surpass current satellites in terms of signal sensitivity and the number of spot beams it can generate.

The satellite's powerful antenna will enable TerreStar to deliver services over a broad range of commercially available consumer-style wireless devices utilizing existing commercial chip technology including cell phones, PDAs, laptops and legacy devices such as Land Mobile Radios (LMRs)-effectively outdating bulky and cumbersome satellite phones.

The system will be fourth-generation wireless (4G) all Internet Protocol (IP) based and use two 10-Mhz blocks of contiguous spectrum in the 2 GHz band. TerreStar Networks says the spectrum footprint will cover almost 330 million people across the United States and Canada. TerreStar Networks currently has a Launch on Demand contract with Arianespace that commenced last month (November 2007). The contract includes two additional launch options which TerreStar Networks could use to cover other parts of the world.

According to Brian Dubie, the Vermont pilot project will not require state funds and, once in place, the network will be available for all voice and data service providers currently operating in Vermont, as well as new providers.

If all proceeds on schedule, Vermonters could have access by late 2008 or early 2009.

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