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Telecom Company Seeks Federal Funds to Extend N.H. Broadband

The telecommunications company Spectrum is seeking CARES Act funding to connect four underserved streets in Keene to high-speed Internet, applying for money through New Hampshire’s Emergency Broadband Expansion Program.

by Mia Summerson, The Keene Sentinel / July 22, 2020

(TNS) — Spectrum is seeking CARES Act funding to connect four under-served streets in Keene to high-speed Internet.

The telecommunications company has applied for a $189,750 grant through New Hampshire’s Emergency Broadband Expansion Program, City Manager Elizabeth Dragon said in an email Monday. If its application is approved, it would mean that 76 homes on Hurricane, Daniels Hill, Langley and Chesterfield roads that have had difficulty getting online would finally have a more reliable connection.

These streets are all on the western side of the city, with the latter three in Keene’s southwestern corner.

“This would be a big deal for those neighborhoods,” Dragon said Thursday, during a meeting of the City Council held via Zoom. “They have had some real challenges … connecting their children to education and connecting to their work.”

She said Monday that some portions of the streets in question do have access to high-speed Internet, but others don’t.

During the council meeting, Dragon encouraged residents in these neighborhoods to reach out to the Governor’s Office For Emergency Relief and Recovery to advocate for the project.

The $50 million Emergency Broadband Expansion Program was announced by Gov. Chris Sununu in June and is funded via the federal CARES Act, the $2.2 trillion aid package signed into law by President Donald Trump in mid-March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

School and business closures related to the outbreak have forced students and many workers to adapt to remote learning and working environments, which has highlighted gaps in Internet availability. Telemedicine has also been a primary concern, as patients look for ways to follow social-distancing protocols while also staying in touch with their physicians.

“[The CARES Act money] is really designed to get out and really provide some relief to folks that have been affected by COVID, be they businesses or nonprofits,” Sununu said in June after announcing the program. “Areas where we clearly need to make investments to help make sure that we’re closing those gaps that may have either been exacerbated by, or made more problematic through, the COVID crisis.”

The program requires the projects to support Internet speeds of 25 Mbps minimum for downloads and 3 Mbps minimum for uploads.

Spectrum spokeswoman Heidi Vandenbrouck on Tuesday confirmed the company has filed the grant application to extend services to the four city streets.

“We will provide our services to those areas should the grant be awarded,” she said in an email.

Mayor George Hansel said Monday that getting these areas of Keene connected has been a struggle for some time, and the city has been looking for ways to improve the situation.

Both he and Dragon said those neighborhoods don’t have the same Internet access as other parts of the city because low population levels make them less appealing for providers to build out their infrastructure.

“Those are very sparsely populated streets,” Hansel said. “They don’t meet the calculation usually used by providers to install the last mile of broadband.”

Hansel said Assistant City Manager Rebecca Landry pointed out the potential project to Spectrum, which then applied for the grant following her recommendation. While the city is not directly involved in the grant application, he said officials will continue to advocate for the needs of the community and provide any necessary information.

The application was submitted in early July, but so far there has been no word on whether it’s been accepted, according to Dragon. The governor’s website indicates that the anticipated start time for contracts is mid-July.

“The program does require that projects be complete before the end of this calendar year,” she said. “So we expect to learn more soon.”

©2020 The Keene Sentinel (Keene, N.H.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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