The town of Hanover, New Hampshire (pop. 11,500), is considering building its own municipal fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network following the enactment of a new state law that makes it easier for communities to take on such projects.
Under the new state law (Chapter 240, HB486-Final Version), New Hampshire towns and cities can now establish special assessment districts to finance telecommunications infrastructure, expanding a long-standing statute. Specifically, the law now includes “communication infrastructure” as among the types of “public facilities” for which a special assessment district can be formed.
Under the expanded law, communities can finance fiber optic networks by billing individuals who reside within the district for a prorated share of the cost of installing that communication infrastructure.
Prospects for Fiber Raised
Hanover town manager Julia Griffin told our Chris Mitchell in a recent podcast of Community Broadband Bits:
“For the first time I think there is a role here for a municipal entity to help ensure that fiber is installed and that homeowners and businesses have an opportunity to connect to that network."
“Prior to this we've been able to create districts for water and sewer and sidewalks and street lights and even for downtown maintenance; but never for communication infrastructure. Nor has the statutes that have been on the books for years, been as expansive as this one is in terms of laying out just how we make these assessment districts work.”
Since New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan signed the special assessment districts measure into law last July, Hanover has started looking into building a municipal network. It is in the process of finalizing a contract with Wide Open Networks to perform the cost analysis and system network design.
Hanover Explores Building Fiber Network
“We will likely have a completed design by late March at the latest,” Griffin told us. “We have asked them (Wide Open Networks) to develop cost estimates, recommend options of undergrounding the fiber and develop an implementation plan.”
“Ideally, Hanover employees would do all of the ditching and conduit installation which will save us the labor costs and avoid the pole attachment fiascos that tend to dominate the New Hampshire landscape. We would then contract with FastRoads to install the fiber and property connections. We could, potentially, coordinate with the town to our north, Lyme, New Hampshire.”
New Hampshire FastRoads, of which Hanover is a participating community, is a collaboration of the New Hampshire Community Development Finance Authority, the Monadnock Economic Development Corp., the 34 towns of the Monadnock region, and WCNH.net, the eight towns of the Upper Valley–Lake Sunapee region. Its goal is to help ensure that the businesses, institutions, and residents of the region have the right infrastructure to support jobs and sustainable economic development, including fast, affordable, reliable telecommunications infrastructure in rural areas. Griffin told us that Hanover envisions its fiber optic network would be open access.
“We're really looking for how we can do this feasibly, economically for our residents in terms of making it as affordable as possible, but also streamlining the process by doing it ourselves in our own right of way. I'm looking forward to creating a working model that we hope other New Hampshire communities are going to be able to take hold of and run with it.”
New Law Long Time Coming
Griffin, a member of the FastRoads board, says she was among people in New Hampshire who has been pushing for a change in state law for more than the past 10 years.
“We hear from our residents how important it is that they have robust Internet access, and, yet, as a municipality we're not enabled to invest in helping to bring that infrastructure to our region.”
The new state law is a significant change for New Hampshire communities since the local governments have been very limited in how they can use public financing to invest in Internet networks. Though New Hampshire does not have any explicit barriers against publicly owned networks, the state has not authorized local governments to bond for them, which has limited local communities’ ability ensure high quality Internet access.
Griffin noted New Hampshire has technically allowed bonding under a statute that's been on the books for years:
“But it’s so impossible to implement because the telecommunication companies essentially made sure that it's ground rules are so onerous that it's virtually impossible for any municipality to take advantage of it."
Hanover borders Vermont. Although largely a rural community, the town is also home to Dartmouth College, a regional medical center, and numerous restaurants, shopping, and theater that make it an attractive draw for visitors and tourists.
Currently, about 50 percent of Hanover residents have Comcast or Fairpoint DSL, Griffin says, noting, “Both are OK but still have their limitations in today’s streaming world.”
Meanwhile, the remaining 50 percent of town residents have no “high speed Internet service other than satellite which is expensive and really unreliable,” Griffin notes. “Many in-town customers would like faster Internet speeds while our outlying rural residents would settle for just about anything.”
Griffin explains, “We’re a community that is very heavily dependent on the Internet.”