Broadband is the Future of New Hampshire
Friday, June 10, 2022
Broadband is the Future of New Hampshire
"Every New Hampshire resident, business, and organization should have access to fast, reliable, and affordable broadband to ensure our current and future prosperity and quality of life."
—Broadband: The Connection to New Hampshire's Future 2015
According to U.S. News & World Report, New Hampshire is 10th overall in access to broadband, But the state ranks 35th for data speed. BroadbandNow estimates that only 30 percent of the state has access to fiber-optic service and only about 7 percent has access to 1-gig service.
New Hampshire's Broadband Plan
The New Hampshire Broadband Mapping & Planning Program (NHBMPP) is a comprehensive initiative that began in 2010 with the goal of understanding where broadband is currently available in the state, how it can be made more widely available in the future, and how to encourage increased levels of broadband adoption and usage. The program is an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) project funded through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
“We have to consider broadband just another utility, which is to say it is a critical service that is essential to modern-day life.”—Gov. Chris Sununu
In 2015, NHBMPP published Broadband: The Connection to New Hampshire’s Future, offering dozens of recommendations to ensure that high-speed broadband is available to everyone in the state, that it is affordable, and that people know how to use it effectively. The recommendations can be broadly summarized:
- Establish a Broadband Authority and Broadband Council: New Hampshire needs an official entity that is responsible for developing and advancing the state’s strategic broadband plan, for continuing to collect data and map broadband use, and for seeking funding to support infrastructure expansion—a statewide authority. It also needs a broadly representative stakeholder group to advise the authority and other public officials—a broadband council. Creating an official state authority and an advisory council to plan, promote, finance, assess, and support expanded broadband deployment and adoption efforts is a critical first step to ensuring that all New Hampshire residents and businesses have access to affordable broadband.
- Eliminate Barriers to Broadband Availability: Currently about 70% of New Hampshire residents, and less than half of households in rural areas, have access to broadband at speeds greater than 100 Mbps, the speed necessary for the simultaneous use of multiple devices, cloud-based business applications, telemedicine, etc. In addition to increasing speeds in areas that are currently served, New Hampshire needs to extend broadband service to areas of the state that are currently unserved or underserved. Ensuring that fast, reliable broadband service is accessible to all New Hampshire residents, businesses, and organizations who want it is essential to attaining prosperity and a high quality of life in New Hampshire. One way to encourage broadband expansion is to eliminate barriers to broadband availability. This includes working with service providers, utility pole owners, regulators, and legislators to 1) streamline the pole attachment and tower siting processes; 2) improve the use of highway rights-of-way; and 3) streamline utility pole licensing procedures.
- Encourage Competition to Improve Broadband Affordability: The cost of broadband service makes it unaffordable to a significant number of New Hampshire residents. Much of the state has coverage from only one or two wireline broadband providers, and this lack of competition can lead to higher prices. New Hampshire needs to encourage competition among providers to bring the lowest possible cost to consumers.
- Coordinate, Promote, and Sponsor Trainings to Increase Broadband Adoption: New Hampshire needs to coordinate, promote, and sponsor trainings for residents, businesses, and organizations on the benefits of broadband usage. Increased skills and knowledge of broadband applications encourages broadband use and will lead to a well-educated, prosperous, healthy, and safe New Hampshire.
- Monitor Broadband Availability and Adoption: New Hampshire needs to monitor, inventory, and evaluate its broadband availability, affordability, adoption, and competitive position on an ongoing and regular basis. Grant funding from the NTIA for the NHBMPP ended in early 2015. Continuing to collect statewide broadband availability and adoption data is necessary in order to measure the effectiveness of broadband efforts and to provide a clear picture of New Hampshire’s broadband competitive position in comparison to other states and countries.
COVID Accelerates New Hampshire's Digital Divide Efforts
Using $50 million from the CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund, Governor Chris Sununu (R-NH) launched the Connecting NH—Emergency Broadband Expansion Program in June 2020. The program sought to provide high-speed internet connectivity (defined as 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload) to as many unserved New Hampshire properties as possible at the least cost to the state. The program demanded quick action from broadband providers: requiring projects to be completed as soon as possible, but no later than December 15, 2020. Funded projects could be wired or wireless access, but were required to be public/private partnership collaborations between existing providers and municipalities.
"This public-private partnership is a smart investment for communities across the Granite State in expanding broadband access," said Gov. Sununu at the launch of the program. "As more Granite Staters are learning and working remotely, and using the internet to access telehealth services, this vital expansion program ensures equitable access to service for Granite Staters."
Through the Emergency Broadband Expansion Program, nearly $13 million was invested in critical broadband projects utilizing CARES Act funds to connect nearly 4,500 previously unserved properties. The state had set aside $50 million in CARES Act funding; the December 2020 deadline for completion of projects may have suppressed further participation.
"New Hampshire was one of the few states in the country to use our CARES Act money to invest in broadband across the state,” said Gov. Sununu. “New Hampshire’s program was wildly successful—bringing together the state, private, and municipal partners—all to get the job done and connect our rural communities in a sustainable way.”
In July 2021, New Hampshire enacted a new law establishing the Broadband Matching Grant Fund through the Department of Business and Economic Affairs. Supported with state appropriations, gifts, grants, donations, and available federal funds, eligible projects will provide high-speed Internet access in unserved areas of the state that lack access to broadband services from at least one broadband provider. Any broadband provider, political subdivision, or communications district is eligible for a grant of up to 50 percent of the total eligible costs of a project. Application evaluation criteria promote faster service, up to and including gigabit service. The law permits communities to issue low-interest municipal bonds to cover their costs for projects.
“I expect we could see as much as $100 million in federal assistance to expand broadband over the next few years,” Gov. Sununu said when signing the bill. “This gives the state a great opportunity to do all we can to extend service to that last mile throughout New Hampshire.”
The Office of Strategic Initiatives within New Hampshire's newly-created Department of Energy manages the effort.
New Hampshire's Capital Projects Fund Award
On June 7, 2022, the U.S. Department of Treasury approved New Hampshire's plan to invest $50 million of the state's Capital Projects Fund allotment for broadband deployment. Although the Capital Projects Fund can support a number of uses that directly enable work, education, and health monitoring in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, New Hampshire is concentrating over 40% of its allocation at this time on deploying reliable, affordable broadband infrastructure.
The state has created the Broadband Contract Program, overseen by the New Hampshire Department of Business and Economic Affairs, to offer broadband service providers with a financial incentive to bring service to unserved and underserved addresses in the state—areas/addresses where it may be financially detrimental for providers to attempt to expand. Applications will be scored using criteria that encourage the maximum number of properties to be served at the lowest cost and prioritize broadband networks that will be owned, operated by, or affiliated with local governments, non-profits, and co-operatives.
New Hampshire estimates that investments made using the Capital Projects Fund will serve 50 percent of locations still lacking high-speed internet access in the state.
The Broadband Contract Program is designed to fund broadband infrastructure that is designed to deliver reliable internet service that meets or exceeds 100/100 Mbps symmetrical speeds. Providers will be required to:
- participate in the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP)—a $30 per month subsidy for low-income families—and
- offer at least one low-cost option at speeds sufficient for households with multiple users to simultaneously telework and engage in remote learning.
U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) helped create the Capital Projects Fund. “Access to high-speed internet is a necessity,” she said. “From running a business or managing finances to attending telemedicine appointments, people rely on internet connectivity every day. Unfortunately, many rural areas in New Hampshire still don’t have reliable internet connections. That is why I worked to set up and secure this funding in the American Rescue Plan, so that every person has the opportunity to succeed and so that our state’s economy can thrive.”
More Federal Funds on the Way
In addition to the $122 million New Hampshire was allocated from the Capital Projects Fund, the state can also receive at least $100 million from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration's Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program.
Announcing the state's intention to participate in BEAD, Gov. Sununu said, "New Hampshire was the first state to invest CARES Act dollars to expand broadband access and we are ready to continue that success with this additional funding. More than ever, our rural communities need to be connected."
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Kevin Taglang is the executive editor at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society.
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.
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