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New Hampshire Gets a $65M Infusion of Federal Cash for Broadband

Rural parts of the state that lack reliable Internet connections are hopeful the recent award of $65 million in American Rescue Plan Act money will expand service in their areas. The state Legislature accepted the funding last week.

An aerial view of Lincoln, N.H.
Lincoln, N.H.
(TNS) — The town of Hancock lacks the sort of reliable high-speed Internet that has become so essential for work, entertainment, education and telehealth, says Mollie Miller, that community's Telecommunications Committee chair.

She's hopeful the situation will improve under $65 million in federal funding for improving broadband infrastructure that was accepted Friday by the N.H. Legislature's Joint Fiscal Committee and coming before the N.H. Executive Council for approval on Wednesday.

Her Monadnock Region town of about 1,600 people generally lacks Internet service fast enough to allow people to work remotely.

"I have three adult sons who all work and they can't come home to visit and work," she said Monday. "We can barely watch Netflix; we have to turn off every device in the house."

Miller compared it to the time before rural areas had electricity.

"Pretend it's 1936 and all your neighbors have refrigerators, they have electric saws, they have electricity at night and you're sitting here with a kerosene lamp," she said.

Miller and officials from 14 other towns, including Alstead and Winchester, sent a letter to the Joint Fiscal Committee urging the panel to take the money, which is part of the American Rescue Plan Act.

In July, the Executive Council and the committee, comprising members of the N.H. House and Senate, agreed to go ahead with a first round of about $50 million in federal funding to build broadband infrastructure in rural parts of the state.

The N.H. Electric Cooperative is using that money to extend high-speed Internet to an additional 23,000 customers in Grafton, Belknap, Carroll, Coos, Sullivan and Merrimack counties. The utility does not serve much of the Monadnock Region.

Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington, whose district takes in most of the region, said Monday she hopes the new round of funding will help build infrastructure locally.

"The need to serve Cheshire County has been a priority for me and a source of discussion," she said. "All the areas of the state that need broadband coverage are important, but I represent Cheshire County, so I want to make sure our issues are paid attention to."

Her district also covers Hancock, which is on the western edge of Hillsborough County, bordering Cheshire County.

In a written statement after the Joint Fiscal Committee approved the latest round of funding, Gov. Chris Sununu said the state is moving fast to build out its broadband infrastructure.

"This funding will help ensure the Granite State remains competitive in retaining and attracting workforce, business, residents, and telehealth opportunities into the future," he said.

Before the committee's meeting, he sent the panel a statement urging its approval of the money.

"With supply chain and interest rate concerns, we need to continue to move quickly to ensure we beat other states to the punch and secure the materials necessary to construct these projects," he wrote.

There are two components to the $65 million latest round of funding.

The Broadband Connect Program ($40 million) was approved by U.S. Treasury in June. The program is designed to allow providers to offer Internet service to rural parts of the state, where such service is lacking.

The Broadband Matching Grant Initiative ($25 million) was approved by the U.S. Treasury in September. This is the funding mechanism created by the N.H. Legislature in 2021 to provide up to a 75 percent match to applicants to build broadband Internet infrastructure in unserved and underserved parts of a community.

©2022 The Keene Sentinel, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.