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Monday, July 12, 2021

Scott Names Former Political Rival Hallquist to Lead Broadband Expansion

Posted By on Mon, Jul 12, 2021 at 4:27 PM

Christine Hallquist - JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
  • Christine Hallquist
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.

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Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Vermont-Based Remote-Instruction Startup Nets $6 Million From Investors

Posted By on Tue, Jun 8, 2021 at 9:01 AM

Narine Hall - COURTESY OF CHAMPLAIN COLLEGE
  • Courtesy of Champlain College
  • Narine Hall
A video conference company cofounded by Champlain College professor Narine Hall has received a round of investment worth $6 million.

The company, InSpace, sells a platform that is designed to ease personal interaction between students and teachers in virtual classrooms. InSpace announced Tuesday that it received $6 million in two rounds of funding, including a $2.6 investment from Boston Seed Capital in January, and $1.5 million each from Gutbrain Ventures of Boston and PBJ Capital of Lincoln, Mass., at the end of May.

Hall is a data science assistant professor and academic program director at Champlain College. She created the platform with software and video engineer Haykanush Lputyan, who lives in Armenia. The two, friends from college in that country, launched it last year as the pandemic sent students and professors out of the classroom to work remotely.

The company said its software is now used by more than 100 universities and schools worldwide. Hall, who lives in Colchester, said InSpace was making money almost as soon as it was founded 11 months ago and now has about 10 employees in Armenia and five in Vermont. She's looking for more employees, including those who can work remotely.

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Monday, April 26, 2021

GlobalFoundries Moves Headquarters to New York's Capital Region

Posted By on Mon, Apr 26, 2021 at 3:42 PM

A GlobalFoundries employee working on the production floor in Essex Junction - COURTESY OF GLOBALFOUNDRIES
  • COURTESY OF GLOBALFOUNDRIES
  • A GlobalFoundries employee working on the production floor in Essex Junction
GlobalFoundries, the owner of the former IBM semiconductor plant in Essex Junction and the state’s largest private employer, announced Monday it had  moved its headquarters from Silicon Valley to New York State, where it has two factories.

The shift was hailed by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) at a press conference at the company’s newest fabrication plant in Malta, N.Y, outside Saratoga Springs.

“This is a huge shot in the arm for our Capital Region economy, and it’s a giant step in our goal to enhance Albany’s position as one of the chip fab capitals, not just of America, but of the world,” Schumer said.

The move puts the company's top decision makers just a three-hour drive from the Vermont facility where 2,189 people churn out massive quantities of semiconductor chips for use mostly in the telecommunications industry.

GlobalFoundries didn’t consider a move to the Green Mountain State, however, spokeswoman Gina DeRossi said.

CEO Tom Caulfield is a native New Yorker and was already based in Malta. The plant there, known as Fab 8, is the company’s newest and most advanced, “which makes it the logical choice for our global corporate HQ,” DeRossi told Seven Days. The company’s other New York fab is in East Fishkill. It also has a factory in Germany and six in Singapore.

GlobalFoundries will continue to have a strong presence in California. The shift of senior leadership and administrative functions from the West Coast to Malta have already taken place, DeRossi said.

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Thursday, April 8, 2021

BTV-Based Beta Technologies Inks Deal With UPS for Electric Aircraft

Posted By on Thu, Apr 8, 2021 at 2:10 PM

An Alia prototype - BETA TECHNOLOGIES
  • Beta Technologies
  • An Alia prototype
Updated at 7:20 p.m.

South Burlington-based startup Beta Technologies has a deal with United Parcel Service to sell up to 150 of its experimental electric aircraft to the logistics company.

The agreement announced on Wednesday is a milestone for the Vermont company and for the emerging industry of electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, or eVTOLs, which promises to reduce fuel emissions and enable new methods of transport.

“A purchase order from UPS really gives the team here, who's really focused on the mission of the business, an opportunity to make a meaningful difference in the sustainability of aviation in the future,” founder and CEO Kyle Clark said in an interview.

UPS intends to use the aircraft for express delivery services in small- and mid-size markets, the company said in a press release, as part of an effort to transition away from fossil fuels.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Montpeculiar: Luckily, This Was Not an Actual Legislative Session

Posted By on Tue, Jan 5, 2021 at 6:33 PM

Member of the Vermont House of Representatives practicing remote voting Tuesday - SCREENSHOT ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Screenshot ©️ Seven Days
  • Member of the Vermont House of Representatives practicing remote voting Tuesday
The new, mostly remote session of the Vermont legislature goes live Wednesday with the typical annual ceremonial and procedural oaths, speeches and votes by the House and the Senate. But lawmakers who logged on for a practice session Tuesday got a refresher course in just how frustrating remote legislating can make these otherwise routine tasks. 

House members on videoconference forgot to mute themselves, talked over one another, struggled to use voting software and endured a dull humming sound from someone’s faulty microphone.

“I don’t even know what I’m doing here!” Rep. Robert Helm (R-Fair Haven) declared in exasperation at one point. “Am I recorded as voting yes?”  
Rep. Robert Helm - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • Rep. Robert Helm


The 1 p.m. practice session was staged precisely to help lawmakers and Statehouse staff work out any glitches in remote voting procedures and clear out any cobwebs that some acknowledged had gathered since the previous session ended in September.

Helm and his colleagues weren’t voting on real legislation. Rather, he was expressing befuddlement about whether his vote on a pretend bill — dubbed H.R. XYZ — was being properly registered.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2020

UVM Medical Center Confirms Cyberattack Involved Ransomware

Posted By on Tue, Dec 22, 2020 at 6:02 PM

SEAN METCALF
  • Sean Metcalf
The fall cyberattack that crippled University of Vermont Medical Center servers and disrupted vital patient care for weeks involved a form of ransomware, the hospital disclosed for the first time Tuesday.

Officials had previously refused to say whether ransomware was used, citing guidance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. But the FBI recently gave the hospital permission to describe some aspects of the attack, said Dr. Doug Gentile, the medical center's chief medical information officer.

"What I can tell you is this was in the class of ransomware attacks," Gentile told reporters on a Zoom call. "We did not get a phone call. We did not get a letter. But we did have a file deposited [on our system] that gave instructions on how to contact the attackers."

That file provided a web address and instructed the hospital to contact the perpetrators if it wished to free its system, according to Gentile, who said he could not be sure of the motivation behind the attacks because the hospital ultimately never made contact — nor did it receive any ransom request.

"But we assume they were asking for money," Gentile said.

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Monday, December 7, 2020

Vermont Tech Company Develops AI Software That Can Detect COVID Status

Posted By on Mon, Dec 7, 2020 at 7:42 PM

The AI software could help physicians determine whether PCR tests such as these would be necessary. - FILE: OLIVER PARINI ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Oliver Parini ©️ Seven Days
  • The AI software could help physicians determine whether PCR tests such as these would be necessary.
A Vermont tech company says it has created artificial intelligence software that hospitals can use to rule out whether someone has COVID-19 — simply by analyzing routine blood work.

Artur Adib, founder and CEO of Biocogniv, told Seven Days on Monday that his company's new AI software relies on blood tests often already performed during emergency room visits and would allow hospitals to gauge a patient's COVID status without using up critical testing supplies.

"What this enables hospitals to do is to protect their stash," he said, estimating that they could save up to 70 percent of their PCR kits.

Adib, who founded Biocogniv last year, said his company trained the AI software with a large dataset that included thousands of bloodwork results from both positive and negative COVID-19 patients.

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Thursday, March 26, 2020

Generator Maker Space Prototyping Face Shields for Hospitals

Posted By on Thu, Mar 26, 2020 at 3:23 PM

Jake Blend showing off one of his prototype face shields - COURTESY OF GENERATOR
  • Courtesy of Generator
  • Jake Blend showing off one of his prototype face shields
Burlington maker space Generator has begun prototyping personal protective equipment for area hospitals in response to nationwide shortages amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Members of the maker space are currently working on designs for face shields, N95 masks and ventilators — all of which are in short supply as hospitals prepare for an expected hike in patients due to COVID-19.

The face shields — which allow health care professionals to wear a single mask for longer durations — are ready for mass distribution, according to Generator's executive director Meg Hammond. Officials from the University of Vermont Medical Center planned to test out the prototypes Thursday afternoon, she said.

"If we get approval, then we can immediately start going into production," Hammond said.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Vermont Sues 'Dystopian' Facial Recognition App Maker Clearview AI

Posted By on Tue, Mar 10, 2020 at 3:06 PM

Attorney General T.J. Donovan and staff at Tuesday's press conference - DEREK BROUWER
  • Derek Brouwer
  • Attorney General T.J. Donovan and staff at Tuesday's press conference
Controversial software-maker Clearview AI, a secretive company whose existence was publicly revealed by the New York Times in January, is facing a legal challenge in Vermont.

The Attorney General's Office filed suit against the face-search company on Tuesday, alleging its practice of scooping up billions of online images to build a facial recognition app violates Vermont's consumer protection statute.

The civil suit is also the first legal test of a provision in the state's data broker law, which was the only one of its kind when passed in 2018.

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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Burlington, Schurz Communications Announce Investment in Tech Economy

Posted By on Tue, Oct 15, 2019 at 3:03 PM

Mike Loucy (right) and Mayor Miro Weinberger - COURTNEY LAMDIN
  • Courtney Lamdin
  • Mike Loucy (right) and Mayor Miro Weinberger
Burlington Telecom will invest $3 million in the local tech economy over the next 10 years to boost startups and nonprofits in Burlington.

The telecom's general manager, Mike Loucy, made the announcement Tuesday at the kickoff for the fourth annual Innovation Week, a series of events hosted by BTV Ignite that celebrate Burlington’s tech businesses.

“Depending on how well that goes, it could endure past that,” Loucy said at the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies office on Main Street. “But that's our commitment out of the box, just to see how it works."

The Community Investment Funds were one of several incentives promised by BT's buyer, Schurz Communications, during contentious negotiations with the city. The Burlington City Council selected Schurz's $30.8 million bid to purchase the city's telecom in 2017, but the sale was only finalized this past March. A group of community activists have sued over the sale, arguing that the terms don't provide the greatest return to taxpayers.
The money will be funneled into two separate pots. The Burlington Telecom Innovation Fund will invest $250,000 a year in a Burlington company in the startup or growth phase, and the STEM & Technical Skill Fund will provide a $50,000 annual grant to a nonprofit or similar organization that promotes technical education and workforce development.

“Even though Burlington Telecom is not a city department anymore, it is continuing to move the community forward in numerous ways,” Mayor Miro Weinberger said. “This is an exciting example of that."

The innovation fund will be disbursed at the direction of an Investment Committee, a group of seven entrepreneurs that was established through the BT sale process. Priority will be given to businesses led by women, people of color and those with disabilities.

“This isn't just the usual suspects getting funded,” Weinberger said. “We'll look back in a decade and really see that this has moved the needle in important ways."

BT will retain some equity in the selected companies in return for its investment, but the committee has not determined what percentage, Loucy said. It will ideally start accepting applications by December, he added.

The BTV Ignite board will open the STEM grant competition on October 15. Applications will be accepted through November 27, according to its website. The award could be split between more than one entity each year; winners should be announced before year’s end, according to BTV Ignite project manager Adam Roof.

The announcement marked Loucy’s first public appearance since he was named BT’s president and general manager in May. He most recently worked at the Vermont Electric Power Company in Rutland for 10 years as a senior manager focusing on business development and VELCO’s fiber optic network, according to a BT press release. He also worked for Unicel and Sprint.

Loucy replaces Stephen Barraclough, who had served as the telecom’s GM since 2010 and is largely credited with improving BT’s financial standing.

Loucy said he’s excited for the community fund rollout, adding BT is committed to helping new businesses grow.

"It will give incentive to new startups that are like, ‘Where can I start right out of the box?’ It doesn’t have to be somebody established,” Loucy said. “That’s really the goal of both of these funds: Have a nice, diverse group.”

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