In a new story from The Daily Yonder, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine are preparing to invest federal money in broadband internet, an initiative that will positively impact the rural areas of New England. With some initiative already started, the new money from the American Rescue Act Plan will bring better service to previously underserved areas.
From the story: “In rural parts of New England, where many are unserved or underserved by monopoly providers, a variety of broadband models have taken shape even before now. Many more are predicted to gain momentum with this latest financial boost.
“In New Hampshire, what’s kind of the rage there are these public/private partnerships, particularly with Consolidated,” Gonsalves said. Consolidated Communications is the state’s largest phone company, and it remains the only non-satellite option for internet in several counties.
In New Hampshire, according to BroadBandNow, just over 30% of residents have access to fiber, a factor that hinders population and economic growth. In an effort to improve the connectivity issue, New Hampshire passed a bill in 2018 enabling municipalities to issue bonds for publicly owned internet network infrastructure.
The town of Chesterfield was the first to put the new legislation into action, partnering with Consolidated to build a fiber-to-premises network to all homes and businesses. Consolidated possessed an existing lease on the utility poles, allowing for easier implementation. The arrangement, a first in New Hampshire, also entailed no property tax increase. Instead, a capped service fee was agreed upon to pay back the bond.
However, Chesterfield agreed to transfer ownership of the fiber network to Consolidated after the town retires the bond in 20 years, relinquishing local control. Dozens of other New Hampshire towns have since signed similar public-private broadband agreements with Consolidated, but they have opted for alternative ownership arrangements, including lease renewal and the ability to seek out new providers.
“It’s too early to tell how this will shake out in terms of Consolidated partnering with these various towns,” Gonsalves said. But for now, many last-mile communities are tapping into unprecedented connectivity speeds as a result.”
Different states have different strategies for getting and keeping internet service. According to the story, Vermont does so regionally using Communications Union Districts, and Maine developed a new organization, the Maine Connectivity Authority (MCA), to build infrastructure and maintain internet affordability in the state.
To read the rest of the story on the Yonder, click here.