Using Technology in a Time of COVID-19 (and beyond)

Table of Contents

I. The Digital Divide
II. What to Do If You Are Experiencing Poor Internet Performance
III. Free Wi-Fi Hotspots for Vermonters With Inadequate or No Home Internet
I. The Digital Divide
Sometimes it takes a present-day emergency like the COVID-19 crisis to get the attention of government officials and politicians about deep and long-standing societal problems. One such problem, which has existed since the introduction of home computers in the early 1980s, is the nationwide digital divide between haves and have-nots (rich and poor). This problem has only deepened in the internet age due to the significant deregulation of public utilities (also since the 1980s), which has allowed a few very large communications companies like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T to dominate the market, engage in near-monopolistic pricing and service practices, and largely ignore sparsely populated regions and low-income communities.
Here in Vermont, especially in the more rural areas, according to the Department of Public Service more than 20,000 addresses have no internet access and another nearly 50,000 addresses have internet speed that falls below the FCC's definition of broadband. While this has long been a source of frustration to Vermont businesses and individuals, the COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated the threat this lack of broadband poses to telehealth, distance learning for college students, homeschooling for K–12 students, remote working, government activity, and online offerings by local stores, not to mention limiting citizen access to a broad range of news, arts, entertainment, lifelong education, and even citizen participation in government.
The idea of closing the digital divide is beginning to get some traction in Congress, including with Vermont Congressman Peter Welch. Meanwhile, members of Congress are beginning to talk seriously about the need for a rural digitization act similar to the Rural Electrification Act passed during the Great Depression, which brought electricity to every corner of our state and rural areas in every state in the country.

II. What to Do If You Are Experiencing Poor Internet Performance
It appears that as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, internet use is so high (with many working from home, college and K-12 students doing distance learning, and nearly everyone streaming movies), that there continues to be significant and frustrating performance deterioration of web-based applications, especially group meeting platforms like Zoom and services like Facebook, Gmail, Google Docs, and comparable Apple and Microsoft web applications.
Several weeks ago, we wrote to relevant Vermont government officials and agencies suggesting that government utilities regulators and the governor could put some pressure on internet service providers (ISPs) to increase bandwidth availability to all as a public service (without levying extra charges). The governor's response acknowledged that people might be experiencing problems with internet performance, but claimed that, according to the Vermont Department of Public Service, the cause of these problems was not a lack of bandwidth from ISPs, but rather competition for Wi-Fi bandwidth within homes & businesses.
Reports we had read about bandwidth issues in the more rural parts of the state (and throughout the country), and our own experience with broadband in the city of Montpelier, left us dubious about this claim. Recently, it appears that state officials are beginning to recognize that the related problems of inadequate broadband infrastructure and affordable broadband services in the state are real and have been so since well before the COVID-19 crisis.
Meanwhile, what can we each do to improve our home internet performance?
1. The Vermont Department of Public Service suggests that while you are participating in an important video conference, you should reduce bandwidth constraints in your household
  • Disable Wi-Fi on devices that don’t need to be used
  • Limit the number of simultaneous users on your home network
  • Stop others from streaming video content on YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, etc.
  • Turn off iCloud backups, Dropbox uploads/downloads, and any other background services that upload or download data to/from the cloud
2. Consult Tech Support From Your ISP about ways to improve internet performance, especially during the COVID-19 crisis with more people in your household needing to use it simultaneously
Before trying to get through to them by phone, you might want to consult their website’s tech support pages, for example, Improving WiFi Network Performance” from Comcast’s

Even if you don’t have Comcast, you may find this site useful.
3. Tech support articles:
4. Readers' suggestions
Readers are encouraged to share references and personal successes with improving home internet performance. Send suggestions to
III. Free Wi-Fi Hotspots for Vermonters With Inadequate or No Home Internet
If you need to get online using a publicly available Wi-Fi hotspot, you can find it on the Vermont Department of Public Service Wi-Fi hotspot map

Additionally, Comcast/Xfinity claims that during the COVID crisis, their Wi-Fi hotspots across the country are available free to anyone who needs them—including non-Xfinity Internet subscribers. Visit this map of Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots. If any reader who is not a Comcast subscriber tries to do this, we would love to hear from you whether or not you were able to do so and, if so what the procedure entailed. Email us:

Personal Device Security Suggestions and Reminders from the Vermont Department of Public Service:
When using open networks (like public hotspots or Xfinity Wi-Fi networks), please remember to protect your sensitive information (such as banking or other personally identifying numbers). Please continue to be vigilant with your use of hotspots and public Wi-Fi networks, just as you would have before the arrival of the COVID-19 virus.  
The following links to several articles may help with your navigation and use of these networks.

This post was originally copyedited 5/10/20 by Sheryl Rapée-Adams, a professional copyeditor who is available to polish and shine your words to serve your goals and your readers. Click here to contact her for a quote. 

Circles of Care and Support in Greater Montpelier

This post will be constantly updated; latest updates in red.

Table of Contents

I. Community Announcements

II. Sources of Care and Support That May Be Particularly Helpful
 During the COVID-19 Crisis

Capital Area Neighborhoods (CAN!)
Montpelier Mutual Aid WNOC-RRCC (Washington and Northern Orange Counties 
Regional Response Command Center)
Good Samaritans and other potential helpers in the community
Front Porch Forum
Support Groups
Therapy and counseling via telehealth: help with stress and anxiety 
during the COVID-19 pandemic

III. List of Lists of Sources of Care and Support 
Vermont COVID-19 Crowd-Sourced Resource List
City of Montpelier Coronavirus Response: Resources for COVID-19
Montpelier Mutual Aid: Information Resources for food, school & children,
 discrimination & harassment, domestic violence or sexual assault, mental health
Molly Gray: COVID-19 Statewide Resources for health, mutual aide, support, families

IV. A Framework for Thinking About Circles of Care and Support 

I. Community Announcements 
An interactive Webinar with Claudia Pringles, Esq. Estate planning attorney; followed by Q & A

People are worried –and for good reason. The spread of the coronavirus has had a huge impact on our lives and has gotten many people to think about their own vulnerabilities. 

Ideally, a well-thought-out estate plan will involve a comprehensive plan to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your legacy. However, those types of plans take time. With the sudden unpredictability in our lives amidst this global crisis, what can you do now?  

Whether it’s been a while since you’ve updated your estate plan or whether procrastination has gotten the best of you and you never put pen to paper, this webinar will review some key next-steps to take during this unprecedented situation we all find ourselves in. 

II. Sources of Care and Support That May Be Particularly Helpful During the COVID-19 Crisis

1. Capital Area Neighborhoods (CAN!) 
The City Council voted on March 18 to authorize the Mayor to take steps to restart the Capital Area Neighborhoods (CAN!) program. The Mayor, in turn, asked the Sustainable Montpelier Coalition (SMC) to coordinate this effort. 

Update from the Sustainable Montpelier Coalition about CAN!:
We at Sustainable Montpelier Coalition (SMC) are happy to report that the Capitol Area Neighborhoods (CAN!) project is off and running.
CAN is a decentralized opportunity for neighborhoods to develop groups as they see fit. Each neighborhood may look a bit different than the next. This effort is not obligatory, it is opt-in. The biggest purpose of CAN is to build relationships with neighbors. its an effort to create the most appropriate level of communications for critical information and to identify needs, within our city. Neighbor-to-neighbor communications tend to be the most trusted, and secure. During this time of crisis we all want to trust offers of help, and many of us want to be involved in helping each other. This force for collective good is strong in Montpelier, and this project is a way of mobilizing that force. 
The CAN project is being designed to help neighborhood coordinators build local lists of residents, through email addresses or phone numbers. From the outreach of this effort we hope to identify people who may not know where to turn.
You may be surprised to know that there are many people in town without internet or smart phone service. Often, these folks are the most vulnerable. By reaching out to neighbors, the CAN coordinators can help the vulnerable with the services and assistance they might need. Although the web and papers are filled with guidance on how to find aid, that doesn't always get out to those in most need. The CAN neighbor-to-neighbor effort can bridge that divide. 
Soon you may find a flyer on your doorstep telling you how to connect with your neighborhood coordinator. Please email or phone these volunteers to get on the local list and suggest neighbors you know who might need help. We can then help connect folks to such volunteer services as Montpelier Mutual Aid (MMA) or the regional COVID response effort.
Once the crisis passes, the CAN effort will then help us all create the deeper community connections we crave to help with such challenges as local food production and such opportunities as neighborhood celebrations
Meanwhile, we still have some neighborhoods without coordinators to make sure everyone is reached. Some folks have stepped up, but some areas are large and need several more folks to volunteer. 
1. Berlin Street area (along River Street, Phelps St, Wheelock St, Sherwood Drive) 
2. Downtown Elm Street (from State Street to Spring Street) 
If you want to help as one of the coordinators, please contact: or 

Phone number is (802) 828-7375

    Background of the current CAN! effort: 
    As Mayor Anne Watson explained during her re-election campaign, the reasons why she wanted to re-start CAN! even before the current COVID-19 crisis and why it will have value even after this crisis has passed:
    I would like to re-establish the Capital Area Neighborhoods as a means to communicate about city issues more readily with constituents and build community resilience if there is a crisis. As we get to know our neighbors, we may find ourselves exposed to new ideas or ways of thinking. That diversity and dialogue will make us stronger, and strong neighborhoods make strong cities. [Source: The Bridge 2/19/20] 

    2. Montpelier Mutual Aid
    Here is a statement provided to us by this important new volunteer group:
    We are a grassroots effort working to coordinate a community-based response to protect and support each otherparticularly our most vulnerable populations.  A top priority at this time is to reduce the spread of the virus through social distancing.  
    With social distancing efforts in full swing, we hope to support each other through making sure that all community members have what they need to enable them to stay home, whether sick or healthy. 
    Currently we have a large group of volunteers that are ready to support individuals in need. 
    We are working to support people through: child care servicesdelivering groceries and or other goods such as prescriptions from pharmacies, and peer-peer support. 
    We are in the process of developing a system to connect volunteers with individuals needing assistance in a safe and reliable manner for both parties
    All information provided on the Needs Request Form and Volunteer Form will only be used for COVID-19 organizing. 
    If you, or someone you know, is in need of assistance please take a brief moment to fill out the Needs Request Form. Once your form has been completed, you will be connected with a volunteer in a timely manner. As the needs of our community are revealed we are committed to leveraging the strength of our community to support each other. Safe distancing is important, but we also have to be able to hold each other, even when we're apart. 
    For questions or concerns please contact: Amanda Garces or Maggie Jones 
    For COVID-19 resource information and to fill out Needs Request Forms or Volunteer Forms go to the Montpelier Mutual Aid website  
    "What Is Mutual Aid, and How Can It Help With Coronavirus?" is a highly informative article about the history, theory and practice of "mutual aid" and its particular relevance during the current COVID-19 pandemic and other future national and global catastrophes due to climate change and the enormous interconnectedness and interdependence of global economies.

    3. WNOC-RRCC (Washington and Northern Orange Counties Regional Response Command Center) 
    WNOC-RRCC is a unified community response of local social service organizations. Its mission is to address the needs of the most vulnerablereduce the medical surge and flatten the curve, and to support and be an ally to state and local efforts, especially during this unprecedented time in history.

    WNOC-RRCC is providing non-critical, but essential services to the state, municipalities, organizations, volunteer groups, and individuals in need, including but not limited to, providing or securing food, shelter, information, medical supplies, transportation, volunteers, etc.

    WNOC-RRCC is now accepting donations of emergency goods & supplies that will be distributed to individuals and community efforts in need. 
    The are specifically seeking: 
    • non-perishable food items
    • consumable household supplies (cleaning products, paper goods, diapers, etc.)
    • personal protective equipment related to reducing the spread of COVID-19 (masks, rubber gloves, disposable suits & gowns). 
    The drop off location is located at Capstone, 20 Gable Place in Barre, and will be open weekdays 7:30 AM- 5:00 PM. Ring the bell at the marked garage door. 

    WNOC-RRCC is not accepting items such as clothing, footwear, electronics, building supplies, or other household hard goods.

    Other one-time specific donation needs will be posted on the @WNOC-RRCC Monetary donations may be made through

    The WNOC-RRCC Call Center
    Now open from 8:00 AM -10:00 PM, 7-days a week: Call  #802-636-2025
    The vision of this free and confidential community resource is to provide a platform for individuals to seek guidance and connection to support services & resources during this trying time. The Call Center will be an additional outlet of support to the public.

    More information and updates on WNOC-RRCC may be found on:
    Facebook. @WNOCRRCC

    Or contact:
    For volunteer-related inquiries: Allison at
    For information about webinar/conference calls:
    All other inquiries:

    4. Good Samaritans and other potential helpers in the community
    Various local residents (including college students and hourly workers who have been sent home due to COVID-19) have been posting on FPF with offers to be paid to help people with almost anything (shopping, landscaping, gardening, yard work, moving, housework, childcare, errands); some (but not all) of these posts list hourly charges. In addition, many people are offering to provide such services without charging.

    It’s becoming easier to find out how to access all of these services because every day an increasing number of them are being posted and/or recommended on Front Porch Forum (FPF). So, if you’re not already a member of FPF, join now! And if you are a member, check it several times a day; make a note for yourself of the number of the issue and if you’ve missed one or more, just enter “Front Porch Forum” in your email search box and every issue you’ve been sent will appear starting with the most recent; so you can read the one(s) you may have missed
    When responding to any of these offers, we encourage readers to inquire about both charges and references.

    5. Front Porch Forum
    Front Porch Forum, itself, has been a life-saver for many and a source of encouragement to all by publishing (and screening) several issues every single day, seven days a week, containing:

    • messages of caring and gratitude to essential workers and good samaritans
    • requests and reports of success from individuals getting needed supplies from other individuals (toilet paper, homemade masks, Drano and on and on)
    • offers from ordinary folks to help others who are house-bound with their shopping
    • numerous people sharing helpful DIY advice for hand-sanitizer, masks, etc.
    • communication of generally accurate and far less unsubstantiated information than usual; and
    • an overall tone of empathy, tolerance, patience, and forgiveness even around such usually overly-emotional issues such as dogs off-leash in Hubbard Park park. Indeed, during this COVID-19 emergency,   
    Front Porch Forum deserves our gratitude and financial support; you can make a donation directly on their site.

    6. Support Groups
    It goes without saying that support groups of various kinds---AA, buddhist meditation, Death Café, cancer survivor, domestic abuse victims, opioid addiction---have long provided individuals with the kind of mutual aid every human being needs at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, the physical isolation that has been necessary to slow down and flatten the curve of the current COVID-19 crisis means that such groups are NOT able to meet in person. 

    As a result, some of these groups are using various internet-based group meeting platforms, some of which are free (e.g., Google Hangouts), but most of which charge at least a small monthly fee (e.g. Google Meet) or have a limited free version (e.g. Slack, Zoom)

    Slack channels have been set up for various neighborhoods to communicate with one-another. To join a neighborhood Slack channel and participate in other Montpelier Slack groups like Mutual Aid, click here and sign up; it's free.

    7.  Therapy and counseling via telehealth: help with stress and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic
    Many of us are experiencing stress, anxiety, and even fear about the COVID-19 pandemic; and being confined to our homes can intensify these feelings. This may be particularly acute for people who are at higher risk, including those 60 and 60. 

    Recognizing this likelihood, the CDC makes the following recommendations for self-care during the COVID-19 emergency:
    • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories and social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
    • Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
    • Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
    • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
    The CDC goes on to say that if you are having difficulty managing your stress-levels for several days in a row, you should “call your healthcare provider” and “If you, or someone you care about, are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression, or anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or others call 911 or Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746. (TTY 1-800-846-8517).”

    Vermont Mental Health Resources

    Additional institutional resources are listed in the Crowd Sourced Vermont COVID-19 Resource List below. Click MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCES: 4

    Tele-health with Therapists and Counselors in Montpelier
    Closer to home, here in Montpelier, we are blessed with an abundance of certified therapists and counselors, some of whom are now offering telehealth counseling sessions and have posted their contact information on Front Porch Forum

    You may be able to do a search on FPF by entering the terms tele-medicine or counseling in the search box. However, we realize that the FPF search function can be difficult for some people to manage, so to assist those in need at this difficult time, we are making an exception here to our policy of not identifying particular service providers. 

    Disclaimer: our listing of the providers below does not constitute a recommendation; they simply identify the FPF town/date/issue in which you can find their contact information. 

    You should be sure to check their profiles on and, if possible, get recommendations from your own Personal Care Provider.

    Barre City March 17, 2020 No. 2487 • Peter Dietz • Foster Street, Barre

    Montpelier March 19, 2020 No. 4057 • Kimberlee D. Johnson, LICSW - Distance Counseling • Main St, Montpelier

    Montpelier March 21, 2020 No. 4060 • Neil Herrick • Cedar Hill Lane, Montpelier

    Montpelier March 21, 2020 – No. 4061 • Diane Tetrault • Main St, Montpelier

    Middlesex March 21, 2020 No. 3387 • Kerrin Kritchman • Government Hill Rd, Middlesex

    Montpelier-- Mar 25, 2020 No. 4073 • Glenn Soberman, Glenn Soberman • Elm St, Montpelier

    III. List of Lists of Sources of Care and Support 
    1. Vermont COVID-19 Crowd Sourced Resource List
    This is an impressively comprehensive list of resources contributed by dozens people from their own knowledge and/or experience. However, users of such crowd-sourced materials should understand that information gathered in this manner has NOT been screened or curated in any way. Thus, one must and should be sure to verify that any resource one chooses to consult is legitimate.

    The listed resources are organized in the dynamic Table of Contents (copied below), allowing users to click on a topic and go to a page with resources on that topic. In fact, readers can do exactly that from the ToC below.

    2. City of Montpelier Coronavirus Response: Resources for COVID-19
    3. Montpelier Mutual Aid: Information Resources for: food, school & children, discrimination & harassment, domestic violence or sexual assault, mental health
    4. Molly Gray's COVID-19 Statewide Resources for: health, mutual aide, support, families

    Readers are encouraged to suggest other useful lists of COVID-19 information and access to care and support

    IV. A Framework for Thinking About Circles of Care and Support 

    The following framework is intended to help us identify the kinds of care and support we might need especially during the COVID-19 emergency, but also as we age intentionally; they are listed 
    more-or-less from innermost to outermost circles.

    Innermost Circles: couples, families, household, roommates, others you might want to add?

    Informal Personal Circles: friends, neighbors, support groups (e.g., AA, various survivor groups), book and study groups, meditation groups, community gardens, others you might want to add?

    Informal Personal Communication Platforms: telephone, text-messagingemail, Skype, FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, and others you might want to recommend?

    Informal Volunteers and Good Samaritans: e.g., mask-making efforts; shopping for others; responses to FPF requests; others you might want to add?

    Informal Group Communication & Information Sharing:

    • Social Media Platforms like Front Porch Forum, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Slack, Google Hangout, Zoom, Google Groups
    • Crowd-sourced information sites like the Vermont COVID-19 Resource List; others you might want to recommend? 
    Organized Community Groups and Targeted Service Organizations: 

    • Religious organizations and other spiritual communities
    • Civic organizations (e.g., Shriners, Lion’s Club, VFW, American Legion, PTA)
    • Cultural organizations (e.g. Kellogg-Hubbard Library, TW Wood Gallery, Lost Nation Theater, Capital Cities Concerts)
    • Neighborhood groups: e.g., Capital Area Neighborhood
    • Other types of organized community groups and targeted service organizations you might want to add?

    Vermont Non-Governmental Aid Organizations (NGO): 
    • Local, county & regional health care organizations:  e.g., Central Vermont Medical Center (CVMC) & the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMC); Gifford Health Care (GHC), Gifford Medical Center (GMC), & Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC; Central Vermont Home Health and Hospice (CVHHH; Washington County Mental Health (WCMH)
    • Local, county and regional organizations for senior, disabled, homeless, low-income, and other vulnerable populations: e.g., Central Vermont Council on Aging (CVCOA); Council of Vermont Elders (COVE); Vermont Center for Independent Living (VCIL); Green Mountain Self-Advocates; Another Way; Good Samaritan Haven; Capstone; Downstreet; Vermont Workers Center; Everybody Wins Vermont; Montpelier Mutual Aid; Washington and Northern Orange Counties Regional Response Command Center (WNOC-RRCC)
    • Other Vermont Non-Governmental Aid Organizations you might propose adding?

    Privately Owned or Cooperative Local and Regional Sources of Essential Goods and Services: 

    • Food: e.g, Hunger Mountain, Adamant, and Plainfield Food Co-ops; Capital City Farmer’s Market, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and other farms and farm stands that sell directly
    • Fuel & heating
    • Media Outlets: e.g.,Vermont Public Radio (VPR), VTDigger, Times-Argus, The BridgeWashington World, 7 Days
    • Other privately owned local and regional sources of essential goods and servive you might want to suggest?

    Governmental Circles: 

    • Local: e.g., Montpelier City Manager, departments (including police, fire, and other emergencies), boards, committees, official city website, Montpelier Senior Activity Center  (MSAC) eNewsletter.
    • State: Vermont Governor, agencies, commissions, and departments (including Health), official state websites
    • National: e.g., Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches, agencies, and variety of .gov websites
    • International: e.g., United Nations and its agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and UNHCR 

    National and International Non-governmental Organizations
    Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam, Red Cross, CARE, and many others listed on the list of relief organizations 

    National and International Privately Owned Sources of Essential Products and Services: 

    Media Outlets: e.g., New York Times (free access to articles on COVID-19); Washington Post (limited access without subscription); Atlantic Magazine (long form journalism on COVID; subscription suggested)

    Other suggestions?