Horse-powered high-speed Internet

In Vermont and other rugged, rural states, it's not as easy to pull cable as you think

If you've ever crawled under someone else's desk to connect them to their lifeline of information while voices muffled by breakfast muffins and disdain ask how long this is going to take, or stood on rickety ladders to pull cable through a dropped ceiling that is the filthiest thing you've ever put your head into (unless your life is a lot more exciting than most), you know how hard it can be to make the physical connections that link us to the Internet.

If you've ever wired a router standing in a cherry picker or digging steel claws into 40 feet of splintery, pine-tarry telephone pole, you know it's a lot harder to make the long-distance connections outdoors than the short ones inside.

horse_1.jpgSource: REUTERS/Brian Snyder

If you've ever had to hire a Belgian draft horse to pull fiber through the marshes and hills of inaccessible firebreaks in mountainous rural Vermont -- well, I'm not sure what you'd learn, but you'd darn well know flatlanders don't know anything about how versatile you really have to be to pull cable where you want it to go.

Even if the gear you use to pull the cable eats hay and nuzzles the driver while you're still on the job.

horse_2.jpgSource: REUTERS/Brian Snyder

In this case the high-tech transport is a Belgian named Fred, led by local Claude Desmarais, who was hired by Fairpoint Communication to help string fiber across stretches of rugged, wooded Vermont inaccessible to even the telco's backcountry-roving service trucks.

horse_3.jpgSource: REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Fred is helping Fairmont keep up with requirements set by the Vermont legislature and Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin to push broadband Internet access to all parts of the state by 2013.

Even the governor, who lives on "a dirt road in Putney, is just another customer waiting in line for bandwidth," according to a story on Vermont Public Radio's site.

horse_4.jpgSource: REUTERS/Brian Snyder

ConnectVT, part of the state transportation agency that oversees the project, estimates 85 percent of the state is covered by broadband. Its estimates are considered to be wildly inaccurate by, among other people, the governor, whose house is listed as having DSL service, though neither he, his family or neighbors have ever heard a word about it.

Fred apparently had nothing to say on the progress he helped make June 24, when these pictures were taken, but he isn't happy about it, to judge from the long face.

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