There are many reasons people choose to uproot themselves from urban areas to live in rural Vermont. Chief among these reasons are quality of life and accessibility to the outdoors. What you will not typically find on this list is accessibility to fast, dependable internet service. However, thanks to the efforts of Stan Williams, this has changed in our region.
Nearly a century ago, Vermont, like many other parts of America, was attempting to electrify its less populated areas so they could participate in the modern economy of that time. Just as dairy farmers then could not bring their milk to market, today knowledge workers who choose to work from home in Vermont cannot participate in the 21st century economy. More importantly, the school aged children who live along these picturesque stretches of Vermont roadside have difficulty fully participating in their education.
At one time, my family and I counted ourselves among these frustrated Vermonters. We lived just off a main artery 5 miles outside the village center of Norwich. Broadband technology was nowhere to be found. We tried line of sight solutions. They were terrible. One day I even banged on the steel door of the Fair Point central switching facility in downtown White River Junction. An engineer took pity on us, hooked up DSL, and things were even slower. It was not until EC Fiber arrived on the scene that we had any hope of being part of the 21st Century. Our story is not unique.
Stan Williams, the Valley Net Board Chair and CFO has been a consistent force behind EC Fiber. This is why we are here to recognize him tonight. Stan grew up a flatlander but had childhood connections to the Upper Valley. Later he attended Dartmouth, where he met his wife Jenny, and then struck out professionally where he found himself working in the cellular communications industry as it exploded internationally. At one time he was involved in four publicly traded cellular companies operating in different parts of the world. He was the CFO for 3 of them, and they were all sold by 2006. Jenny Wiliams describes Stan as being a hard worker who felt like he got lucky and had good timing. We should all be grateful for this. As he looked toward the second act of his career, instead of pursuing financial gain, Stan chose a path that “his children and grandchildren would be proud of”.
In 2007 Stan Williams and others connected to Valley Net began to consider how to provide rural communities in eastern Vermont with broadband internet access. EC Fiber was born, and in 2008 24 towns voted at town meeting to join EC Fiber. Soon they secured $90M in financing commitments through an investment bank. Timing could not have been worse. Once the Great Recession started, the commitments were pulled, and the EC Fiber team was left to rely on their own ingenuity and resources.
In true Vermont fashion when market forces and the government could not provide a solution, they did it on their own, raising a $1M in 2011 from members of the Valley Net management team and acquaintances. In the years to come, they built on this model, raising funds as private placement promissory notes in $2,500 chunks from Vermonters who wanted their neighborhoods to join the 21st century.
Fast forward 8 years, EC Fiber has been operating cash flow positive since 2015, has paid back its original investors and is able to access capital markets. Most importantly, they have connected more than 3,000 customers in rural Vermont to high speed fiber optic technology. Moreover, they have the plans and capability to connect the remaining unserved premises in their service area by 2020.
Stan has been one of the many innovative, understated and dedicated leaders behind Valley Net and EC Fiber who has applied hard earned experience from a world away to make the Upper Valley a more sustainable and vibrant economy. Please join me in thanking and congratulating Stan Williams for his tireless efforts.