Gov. Phil Scott has appointed a former political rival, Christine Hallquist, to lead Vermont’s latest push to expand broadband access.
Hallquist will be the first executive director of the Vermont Community Broadband Board, a new entity created by lawmakers to coordinate and accelerate the rollout of high-speed internet services to the 23 percent of Vermont households that lack it.
A veteran of the electric utility industry, Hallquist ran against Scott in 2018. She made history as the first transgender major party gubernatorial candidate in the country. She won just 40 percent of the vote to Scott’s 55 percent.
Hallquist made broadband a major platform in her campaign. She argued that her experience as CEO of Vermont Electric Cooperative positioned her well to help expand the service. She currently works for two communications union districts rolling out broadband in Lamoille County and the Northeast Kingdom.
In a press release, Scott framed broadband as an economic equity issue and praised Hallquist for her years of work advancing the issue.
“I cannot think of a better person to lead this important effort than Christine,” Scott said. “Her experience as a cooperative executive and most recent experience with two CUDs as well as her long-standing commitment to expanding broadband in Vermont will be valuable to this work.”
Communications union districts are a type of municipal entity designed to bridge the digital divide in the state. There are now nine such districts, which can build broadband infrastructure themselves or work with private internet providers to expand service. They cover more than 200 towns and are managed mostly by volunteer boards.
The five-member Vermont Community Broadband Board was formed to help these fledgling districts design, fund and manage the rollout of broadband networks. Future state grants will flow almost exclusively through such districts. Board members have yet to be appointed.
Hallquist compares the challenge of expanding broadband to the rural electrification effort of the 1930s and 1940s that gave birth to the electric co-op that she headed from 2005 to 2018.
In an interview Monday, Hallquist said she was honored to be appointed and learned she'd been selected during a “gracious” call from Scott last week. She said she’s been impressed with Scott’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and told him so.
"I think he did a better job than I could have done,” Hallquist said.
Hallquist will work in the Department of Public Service. Her first order of business will be to get the five board members appointed and ready for the board’s first meeting on August 9, she said.
The state has set aside $150 million for broadband expansion, and Hallquist will be largely responsible for helping the board direct those dollars to fiber-optic projects serving all residents, she said.
“I’m very excited and looking to get to work helping CUDs maximize the value of those grant funds,” Hallquist said.
She will make $120,000 annually and begin work July 26.