New Hampshire Bill Fails to Expand Community Broadband Authority

New Hampshire law makes it more difficult for communities to build broadband networks by only allowing bonds to finance broadband networks in "areas not served by an existing broadband carrier or provider." (See Title III, Chapter 33 of NH law.)

Such a requirement means that local governments could only build networks in areas with absolutely no service providers. Seeing as how most communities have at least one pocket with access to the Internet one way or another, communities are prevented from bonding for the essential infrastructure they need.

The only areas totally without a single service provider could probably only be served by a network that also serves an area where some service providers already operate, as those are the areas capable of generating enough revenue to balance rural areas with less revenue potential.

Because this law significantly retards the ability of communities to encourage economic development, we have seen previous attempts to update it (one of which we covered last year). This year, HB 389 offered a compromise to existing service providers. Nonetheless, it was also killed.

HB 389 would have allowed local governments to bond for broadband infrastructure but not allowed municipalities to provide retail services. Communities would be able to build open access networks but not allowed to offer services directly to subscribers.

Though we ardently defend the right of communities to build the networks they need using the business model they choose, this bill would have been an improvement for communities in New Hampshire.

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One organization that certainly would have benefited from this law's passage would have been FastRoads, an open access network that has moved forward with federal broadband stimulus funding.

The network is currently being designed and will start connecting communities next year.

The network design will begin immediately, with construction of the first phase of the network to be completed in spring 2012. This phase will bring fiber connections between Orford and Enfield. The second phase of the project should be completed in the fall of 2012, allowing connections for those living between Keene and Rindge. The third phase should be finished by spring of 2013, with faster connections available for those living between Enfield and Lempster.

The new connections will provide speeds that are 100 to 130 times faster than the current minimum federal standard for broadband Internet at 768 kilobits per second download speed, and 200 kps upload speed.

FastRoads is partnering with Network New Hampshire Now, a collaboration of public and private organizations to develop a high-speed broadband network throughout the state. A $44.5 million grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and $22 million in matching funds and private donations fund the project.