IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

New Hampshire Creates New Broadband Matching Grants

A new state law creating a matching grants program could help leverage up to $100 million in federal support to expand high-speed Internet service to all corners of the state, according to Gov. Chris Sununu.

new-hampshire-statehouse
The GOP-held New Hampshire Senate and House are both at risk of flipping control.
(Shutterstock)
(TNS) — A new state law creating a matching grants program could help leverage up to $100 million in federal support to expand high-speed Internet service to all corners of the state, according to Gov. Chris Sununu.

Surrounded by lawmakers and technology executives, Sununu signed the legislation (SB 85) earlier this week that followed the governor’s plan in 2020 to use federal CARES Act money for a broadband initiative.

“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,” Sununu said.

New Hampshire was one of a few states that used the COVID-19 relief money to expand broadband service, Sununu said.

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R- Wolfeboro, said he decided to pursue this measure after learning that, while Sununu set aside $50 million for broadband projects, only about $13 million was used.

That’s because communities and internet companies had to complete the work by the end of December.

“You gave us the idea, governor, to try and pursue this and create an ongoing and sustainable initiative,” Bradley said.

The approved projects provided service to 4,500 customers.

The legislation requires participating towns and internet service companies to cover at least 50% of the cost while the state would provide the rest.

“I expect we could see as much as $100 million in federal assistance to expand broadband over the next few years,” Sununu said.

“This gives the state a great opportunity to do all we can to extend service that last mile throughout New Hampshire.”

COVID-19 heightened demand for broadband

The COVID-19 pandemic underscored how important high-speed service was as residents used it for remote school learning, to keep telehealth appointments with medical providers, and to stay connected with family and friends.

Bradley said he designed the legislation along the lines of the state's Drinking Water and Groundwater Trust Fund, set up with proceeds from a decision where ExxonMobil paid New Hampshire $276 million for pollution caused by a gasoline additive.

The legislation will permit communities to issue low-interest municipal bonds to cover their costs of the project.

“This unique financing will really allow this program to rocket forward, I believe,” Sununu said.

The state Office of Strategic Initiatives within the newly-created state Department of Energy will manage this effort.

Sununu said the legislation affirms the importance of broadband service to the state’s economy.

“We have to consider broadband just another utility, which is to say it is a critical service that is essential to modern-day life,” Sununu said.

Meanwhile in Washington on Wednesday, the House Agriculture Committee discussed the Broadband Internet Connections for Rural America Act, which has bipartisan support to expand access to high-speed service.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 13% of farms in New Hampshire have “little or no choice” for Internet service.

“To ensure rural N.H. continues to be a great place to live and work, we must expand broadband access,” said Rep. Annie Kuster, D- N.H., a member of the committee.

A bipartisan group of senators introduced a companion bill known as the Assisting Broadband Connectivity Act.

© 2021 The New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester, N.H.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Special Projects
Sponsored Articles