Broadband fiber

DUBLIN — After one Monadnock Region community recently took advantage of a new state law to improve Internet service for its residents, a second is now looking to do the same.

Dublin has put out a request for proposals to increase broadband coverage in the town, officials announced in a news release this week. It’s possible under Senate Bill 170, legislation signed into law in 2018 that allows municipal governments to issue bonds for building broadband infrastructure in areas not served by a commercial provider.

Sponsored by N.H. Sen. Jay V. Kahn and Rep. John Bordenet, both Keene Democrats, the bill paves the way for public-private partnerships to expand infrastructure in rural areas such as the Monadnock Region.

Chesterfield became the first New Hampshire community to take advantage of the new law after voters approved a $1.8 million bond in March to build a full fiber-optic network that will bring service to every home in town.

But the project won’t affect local taxes — Chesterfield has partnered with Consolidated Communications, which will guarantee the $1.8 million bond over 20 years and contribute about $2.5 million in additional funding. The principal and interest on the bond will be paid for through an up-to-$10 monthly infrastructure fee added to subscribers’ monthly service charges.

In Dublin, finding a way to improve broadband access has been a local topic of conversation for several years, according to Peter “Sturdy” Thomas, co-chairman of the town’s broadband committee and a former selectman. But without the option of creating a public-private partnership as allowed by the new law, the amount of funding it would take to build the infrastructure has been prohibitive.

“The first broadband committee may have been five, six, seven years ago, and was not able to move forward because of the cost, and that is a substantial cost,” he said. “With Senate Bill 170 last year, it’s enabled a town like Dublin to bring itself into the 21st century.”

In 2017, voters approved funding for a feasibility study. The town broadband committee then presented a report on its work over the past two years at Dublin’s annual meeting in March, which outlined the state of broadband in town and potential options for improving infrastructure.

“We have paid a lot of attention to Chesterfield, and then once Chesterfield did it, we used that as our model for our [request for proposals], and hopefully for our future funding,” Thomas said.

According to Thomas, most of Dublin has copper-wire DSL internet, which he said is much slower and less reliable than fiber.

Senate Bill 170 defines “unserved” as a rate of transmission that falls below the Federal Communications Commission’s minimum download speed of 25 Mbps and upload speed of 3 Mbps. A request for information put out to providers showed that more than 83 percent of Dublin residents don’t have access at those speeds, Thomas said.

Improving the infrastructure would provide support for home businesses that need Internet, along with opportunities for telecommuting, distance learning and entertainment, Thomas said.

“So for property values, and property owners, it’s going to make a property more attractive to a broader audience,” Thomas said. “Hopefully it’s going to attract young families.”

After a plan is selected, it must go before the voters. Depending on the terms of the proposals received, the town could bring the plan forward at its annual meeting in March or request to hold a special meeting before then, Thomas said.

“I’m very excited about the process. It’s been a roller-coaster ride from total frustration to pretty good optimism at this point,” he said. “... [Kahn] did an awesome job in getting that bill passed. I think for our state, it is a huge step forward.”

Broadband providers must submit their proposals to the town by Aug. 29. Additional information about Dublin’s research into increasing broadband access is available at townofdublin.org/category/broadband/.

Meg McIntyre can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1404, or mmcintyre@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter

@MMcIntyreKS.