Stoddard is among the first towns to benefit from a project approved under the state’s Connecting NH Emergency Broadband Expansion Program.
During a Thursday news conference, Gov. Chris Sununu announced that $6.5 million would be awarded, in a first round of funding, to vendors who have proposed projects in eight New Hampshire towns. The money will be used for broadband projects that will connect 3,189 properties to high-speed Internet in Stoddard, Bristol, Danbury, Deering, Hillsboro, Mason, Springfield and Washington.
A decade or so ago, Sununu said, the state undertook a large broadband project that improved connectivity but left out a lot of more rural areas. He said the goal with the expansion program is to go after “the last mile.”
“They put a heart of an infrastructure in but never really did the hardest part, which is these final connections,” Sununu said during the news conference. “That’s exactly where we wanted this money to go, to people’s homes, to schools, to libraries, whatever it might be.”
In June, Sununu announced that a total of $50 million in CARES Act money would be allocated to help connect properties that have been unable to get online or that struggle to get a reliable connection. On Thursday, he said the state expects to expend at least $16.1 million of that, which will be used to connect 5,574 properties. He said the state aimed high with the $50 million appropriation, adding that officials were unsure of how many applications to expect.
Eligible projects were those that could be completed by the Dec. 31 deadline imposed by the federal government, Sununu said.
School and business closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic 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.
Information was not immediately available about how many properties in Stoddard will benefit from these funds and what parts of the town those properties are in, nor how much of the $6.5 million will be going toward broadband expansion there. A spokesperson from the governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for more information.
Sununu said a second round of funding recipients will be announced as early as next week. He said there are $9.6 million worth of pending contracts, which would serve some 2,374 properties.
In Keene, Spectrum is seeking a $189,750 grant to help connect 76 homes on Hurricane, Daniels Hill, Langley and Chesterfield roads. 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,” Keene City Manager Elizabeth Dragon said during a June City Council meeting. “They have had some real challenges … connecting their children to education and connecting to their work.”
In Dublin, a $1.3 million broadband project was already in the works with Consolidated Communications, but the project was ineligible for funding because the grant excludes projects with pre-existing agreements, according to a July 28 report from the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript.