Shopping for Signal with FirstNet

November 23, 2017

Earlier this week, a state panel voted to recommend to Gov. Phil Scott that Vermont opt into FirstNet, a federal system that would change the way first responders communicate.

With FirstNet, AT&T would expand Vermont's public safety telecommunications infrastructure under a contract with the state. Supporters say it could also bolster coverage for private citizens in the process. Skeptics note that there's been little transparency around what AT&T is actually offering.

If Vermont declines, federal law still mandates that the state enhance its system to FirstNet's specs. And while some grant money would be available, the risks and delays of shopping for another vendor make some officials wary.

As the governor considers the Public Safety Broadband Commission's recommendation, VTDigger's Dave Gram talks about what's at stake.


The Amazon Effect in Vermont

November 16, 2017

Stacy Mitchell, the co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, says that is more than a retail giant. The company now produces original TV shows, handles food delivery in cities, and even acts as a defense contractor, managing data storage for U.S. intelligence agencies.

Mitchell is the co-author of a report called "Amazon's Stranglehold: How the Company's Tightening Grip on the Economy Is Stifling Competition, Eroding Jobs, and Threatening Communities."

She says that as Amazon takes over more of the infrastructure powering its operation, its effect on American commerce both nationally and locally is increasingly stark. But few antitrust regulations seem to be curbing the company's expansion.

“We have to use our power as citizens to take away Amazon's power and to make it operate within a set of democratic values," she says, "as opposed to it deciding what the values are."

At a VTDigger event in Manchester earlier this week, Stacy Mitchell talked to Anne Galloway about how Vermont can manage the Amazon effect.


Burlington Telecom’s Fiber Fight

November 9, 2017

Earlier this week, the Burlington City Council asked the final two bidders for Burlington Telecom to combine their plans to take over the city's fiber network. 

Representatives for the for-profit company Ting and the co-op Keep BT Local say they will work on a joint proposal. But some city councilors and others remain skeptical that the bids can be combined.

The council twice failed to choose one bidder over the other at its meeting Monday night. Some councilors now speculate that previously rejected bids from two other companies could be put back on the table. And Burlington residents on both sides of the debate continue to voice their opinions. 

On this week's podcast, Burlington reporters Morgan True and Cory Dawson talk to VTDigger editor Mark Johnson about where the sale stands.


Nuclear Options at Vermont Yankee

November 2, 2017

One year ago, Entergy, the company that owns the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, announced a plan to sell the facility to NorthStar Group Services, a New York-based decommissioning company. Today, federal and state regulators are still reviewing the proposal.

Details about Entergy and NorthStar’s transition plan, which both companies say will lead to a faster cleanup, have been released in the meantime. But there are still major questions about Vermont Yankee’s future that haven’t been answered.

On this week's podcast, VTDigger's Mike Faher talks about where the sale stands and what’s at stake for the people involved.


The Nordic Way

October 27, 2017

When author Anu Partanen moved to the United States in 2008, she knew she would encounter some social policies that differed from those of her native Finland. But she didn't anticipate the anxiety that would come next.

"That was a surprise to me," she told Mark Johnson at a VTDigger News & Brews event. "I just started feeling like I can't handle anything: these mobile phone contracts, or credit card companies, or health insurance." Eventually, she realized, "everyone around me was anxious too."

Partanen's recent book, "The Nordic Theory of Everything," has some suggestions for how the U.S. might learn from countries like Finland. She acknowledges the argument that Nordic countries' expansive social services can make citizens "dependent" on their government. But, she argues, relying on government for certain services, like health care and higher education, actually frees citizens from the bureaucratic tasks that go along with them.

On this week's podcast, recorded live at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier, Partanen and Mark Johnson discuss her experience moving between two very different social systems.


From Needles to Narcan

October 19, 2017

The spread of drugs like heroin and fentanyl throughout Vermont is an ongoing issue without an obvious solution. But the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone, or Narcan, has been proven to save lives.

Since 2013, the Vermont Department of Health has distributed free naloxone to a variety of drug treatment facilities around the state. A recent VTDigger analysis found that the bulk of that supply went to syringe exchanges—nonprofit programs originally established to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Syringe exchanges are uniquely positioned to serve populations that are prone to accidental overdose. But they also face unique challenges.

On this week's podcast, Morgan True explains the role these small programs are playing in a broad crisis. Plus, Erin Mansfield describes what Health Department data does—and doesn't—tell us about this story.


A “New Ruralism” for Vermont

October 12, 2017

Jon Margolis has written columns for VTDigger since 2010. This week, his piece on a national economic survey showing the relative strength of metropolitan areas compared to rural ones raised broad questions about the future of Vermont's economy.

"Metropolitan areas grow organically," Margolis says. Vermont is unlikely to build new ones from scratch. So how can a predominantly rural state chart a long-term path?

On this week's podcast, Margolis discusses some suggestions he's heard from economists, state officials and VTDigger readers about the state's economic outlook.


Clocking the Congressional Calendar

October 5, 2017

Last Saturday marked the end of the federal fiscal year. Leading up to September 30, members of Congress worked to meet deadlines on multiple authorizations that fund government programs across the country.

In Vermont, decisions on the children's health insurance program and the Federal Aviation Administration carry major impacts on state services. Meanwhile, debates about health care and tax reform indicate the Republican-led Congress's ongoing priorities.

On this week's podcast, VTDigger's Elizabeth Hewitt, who has been reporting from Capitol Hill, describes what Congress did—and didn't—get done before their deadline.


Pollution Politics on Lake Champlain

September 28, 2017

Dozens of beaches up and down Lake Champlain were on high alert this week due to toxic algae blooms. In Franklin County, similar cyanobacteria has kept Lake Carmi closed for over four weeks.

Both sites have seen this problem before. Excess phosphorous from farms, roads and parking lots has caused algae blooms in waters across Vermont for decades. While multiple governors have worked to address the pollution, including passing legislation to strengthen water quality regulations, no permanent solution has been enacted.

Decades of phosphorous buildup stored deep under the lake may make long-term progress difficult to achieve. On this week's podcast, Mike Polhamus and Mark Johnson talk about why that makes clean water such a difficult issue for Vermont politicans to address.


A Hard Bargain in Burlington Schools

September 21, 2017

This week, a teacher strike that kept thousands of Burlington students out of school for four days came to an end. Both the teachers union and the school board have expressed relief that they were able to arrive at an agreement.

VTDigger's Morgan True discusses the consequences of the strike, and recaps how negotiations finally led to a deal. Plus, two lawmakers worry that this dispute could be a sign of what’s to come in school districts across the state. That's why they plan to reintroduce legislation they think will curb future conflicts.