The Bulletin Board

New Hampshire Electric Co-op plans to more than double broadband coverage

By: - July 23, 2021 3:10 pm
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Private industry has often opted not to build costly broadband infrastructure in rural areas because it isn’t profitable. (Getty Images)

The New Hampshire Electric Cooperative announced Thursday that it will be building fiber optic broadband connections to reach 1,500 of its members in Sandwich and Acworth. The cooperative anticipates that these connections will start providing high-speed internet service for homes and businesses in early 2022.

The cooperative’s subsidiary, New Hampshire Broadband, will undertake the expansion that would provide internet access to all residents and businesses in both towns, achieving universal coverage. New Hampshire Broadband was formed last year following a vote of the cooperative’s members to expand their mission to include broadband coverage. The subsidiary is already providing broadband service to 1,000 members in Lempster, Clarksville, Colebrook, and Stewartstown.

Many public officials pushing for greater access to broadband have compared the effort to campaigns in the 1930s to provide greater access to electricity, particularly in rural parts of the country where coverage was lagging, such as the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 that set up federal loans to support the build-out of electrical infrastructure to reach remote areas. Rural areas in New Hampshire and across the country are often underserved when it comes to broadband because the lower population density means the return on investment for costly infrastructure is much lower than in populated areas.

Private industry has often opted not to build costly broadband infrastructure in these areas because it isn’t profitable. A cooperative doesn’t have the same goal as a private company to return a profit to investors.

And a cooperative is different from the state’s other utilities in that it is owned by its members, who vote on the organization’s policies and decisions. It’s also a not-for-profit company. The New Hampshire Electric Cooperative provides electricity to 85,000 people who live in 118 municipalities across the state.

Federal funding to reduce the cost of construction for the project has not yet been secured. The town of Sandwich requested funding through a congressional appropriations process. Sandwich also applied for funding through the Northern Border Commission. Seth Wheeler, a spokesperson for the cooperative, said that any portion of the project that isn’t funded through grants will be financed through NHEC. This could drive up the cost of electricity. As new customers start paying for internet service, those funds will be used to pay off the investment, he said.  

“Given that broadband service is a competitive business, we aren’t disclosing the project cost at this time,” Wheeler said in a written statement. 

The state of New Hampshire has not allocated funding for building out broadband infrastructure, but significant funding is anticipated from federal infrastructure legislation, like the American Jobs Plan.

Across the state, about 5 percent of New Hampshire residents live in an area without broadband. Ten percent of households don’t have an internet subscription, which can be a result of the high cost.

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Amanda Gokee
Amanda Gokee

Amanda Gokee is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s energy and environment reporter. She previously reported on these issues at VTDigger. Amanda grew up in Vermont and is a graduate of Harvard University. She received her master’s degree in liberal studies, with a concentration in creative writing, from Dartmouth College. Her work has also appeared in the LA Review of Books and the Valley News.

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