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Chesterfield, NH offers every resident broadband access

The town took advantage of a new state law allowing it to issue a bond and form a public-private partnership to bring high-speed internet to a previously underserved community.

Networking: Broadband and ConnectivityFiber / Fiber Expansion
CN

Chesterfield, NH

United States

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Newsworthy

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript - New law could improve Internet access

A new state law has strengthened an opportunity for communities without access to high-speed internet.Senate Bill 170 was signed into law by Gov. Chris Sununu on May 30. The new law allows municipalities to bond for broadband infrastructure through...

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript - New law could improve Internet access

Fiber optic ready to go in Chesterfield | Local News | reformer.com

CHESTERFIELD, N.H. — A project to string the entire town of Chesterfield with fiber optic cable recently received national recognition for its unique funding model."The Town of Chesterfield ... …

Fiber optic ready to go in Chesterfield | Local News | reformer.com

New Hampshire Expands Local Bonding Authority for Broadband Investment – Institute for Local Self-Reliance

On May 30th, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu signed SB 170, a bill local community leaders had watched for more than a year. The measure will allow municipalities to bond for publicly owned Int

New Hampshire Expands Local Bonding Authority for Broadband Investment – Institute for Local Self-Reliance

New Hampshire towns still struggle to lure broadband - NH Business Review

Bonding power helps but won’t meet all communities’ needs

New Hampshire towns still struggle to lure broadband - NH Business Review

Highlights
  • Chesterfield, NH partnered with Consolidated Communications to build a fiber network that will give every building and household in town access to high-speed internet

  • The town issued a bond to pay for a portion of the network, utilizing a new state law that allows communities to issue bonds in order to implement broadband

  • Other towns may be able to follow this model, and can now also unite to issue multi-town bonds for broadband

Summary

In New Hampshire, much of the landscape is dominated by wilderness. The mountains and forests help draw outdoorsy types and fall foliage-peepers, but when it comes to reliable access to internet, all this remote land causes problems. For communities outside major towns and cities, the lack of connectivity impacts work opportunities, access to education, and economic development.
The state has been working to address this, and in 2018 SB170 was enacted. This law allows local New Hampshire governments that are underserved with internet access to issue bonds to pay for broadband networks.
Chesterfield, NH, became the first town to take advantage of the new regulations. The small town of 3,600 issued a bond and partnered with Consolidated Communications to install a new high-speed fiber network at no cost to taxpayers. The new fiber will connect every building in Chesterfield, and the town’s innovative partnership and funding structure could become a blueprint for other communities in need of better connectivity.

Bonding for broadband

Traditionally, building high-speed internet in New Hampshire’s more rural areas hasn’t been an attractive proposition for providers. Houses are spread out, and the cost to install high-speed broadband lines for a relatively small number of users is high.
This means that a number of the state’s rural towns aren’t served by a high-speed internet provider. Brad Roscoe, a former selectman in Chesterfield who led the town’s broadband efforts explains:

“Providers are not going to invest in the rural areas. Their business models don’t support it. Houses are too far apart; it just doesn’t make any economic sense. So you can’t rely on them to do it on their own.”
SB170 set out to address that. The bill, which was passed in 2018 and signed into law in 2020, permits underserved communities to issue municipal bonds to help them achieve broadband internet access (per the Federal Communications Commission, in 2020 “broadband” is the equivalent of 25 Mbps for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads).
This allows towns to partner with private internet providers to bring in faster internet, bringing municipal money to the table rather than just relying on the providers.

Chesterfield’s unique funding model

Once SB170 was signed, Chesterfield put out an RFP for a broadband partnership. The winning bid came from Consolidated Communications, which serves much of New Hampshire.
The innovative piece is in the funding model: every house and building in Chesterfield is getting access to high-speed internet, but taxpayers aren’t paying for it.
Instead, the town issued a 20-year bond for $1.8 million. Consolidated Communications is guaranteeing the bond, as well as investing an additional $2.5 million to build the network. The bond principal and interest will be paid for via a $10 fee added to subscribers’ monthly internet bills. At the end of the bond period, Consolidated Communications will own the network, guaranteeing the company a subscriber base that other providers can’t win away. Consolidated Communications’ vice president for consumer products, Robert Koester, explained to the Reformer:
"Over the period of the bond, the town will own the infrastructure and lease it back to us. After the bond is paid off, we will own it. While the town owns it, we will still be responsible for repair, maintenance and installations. This is ground-breaking legislation and is how a public/private partnership should work."

Opportunities for other towns

The Chesterfield-Consolidated Communications partnership, which won the CDFA Excellence in Development Finance Innovation Award in 2019, is the first of its kind in the state, but Consolidated hopes it will open the door to others. At a Chesterfield town hall meeting about the project, Koester told residents:
“This is a pilot for us. This is how we want to see it done. From a provider perspective, everybody’s got skin in the game, and everybody wins.”
However, there are some nuances that may make this approach difficult for other cities to mimic.
FIrst of all, the bill doesn’t guarantee the use of fiber. In Chesterfield’s case, adding fiber wasn’t prohibitively more expensive than other types of network. But in some communities it may be, and the bill only authorizes bonds for internet to reach the FCC’s threshold definition of broadband.
There’s also currently no easy way for a community to prove that it’s “underserved,” and commonly used FCC data is based on census blocks, which can be huge and include communities with varying connections. Additionally, since the bill specifically applies to “underserved” areas, not those with adequate networks, it may be hard for some towns to build a network to the places that need it without going through places that already have broadband.
But there may be more solutions — another bill, SB 103, allows multiple communities to bond together, creating the opportunity to form a multi-town broadband district. Other towns, such as Bristol, have looked to federal grants to fund the expansion of high-speed internet access. Across the United States, towns are coming up with creative connectivity solutions — some are employing buses to boost WiFi, others have created a public mesh Wi-Fi network to serve students.
Now, as more Americans work or attend school from home, these public-private broadband partnerships provide a vital continuity of education or employment. Chesterfield’s approach is one of many creative ways local government can better serve its citizens.

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Lindsay Pica-Alfano

Co-founder at Govlaunch

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