N.H. Electric Co-op plans an expansion of broadband service in Grafton County
The New Hampshire Electric Co-op is planning an expansion of high-speed internet to more than 30 towns in Grafton County. Access could reach about 16,500 new members after the Co-op's board of directors agreed this week to build out fiber internet in the more rural parts of the county.
Leo Dwyer, a board member and executive chair of the co-op’s broadband subsidiary, NH Broadband, said many people in more rural communities don’t have internet that meets the federal definition of broadband.
“We’re about making sure everybody gets service, not just the folks that are most profitable,” he said.
It’s more expensive to build out internet infrastructure in less densely populated areas, and therefore less profitable, according to Dwyer.
The member-owned electric utility expanded its mission to include rural broadband service in 2020. So far, it’s built out high-speed internet in four towns, with construction ongoing in two more.
A 2019 report found that more than 100 other rural electric co-ops have expanded into broadband nationwide.
Dwyer says he expects the project to start by early summer and be completed in 18 months. The co-op plans on applying for grants for federal funds available through the American Rescue Plan and the Infrastructure Act, and other federal funds it secured last year through the Federal Communications Commission.
“It’s great that Grafton County was picked [by the co-op],” said Carina Park, Lincoln’s town manager and vice-chair of the county’s broadband committee. “We’re supportive of the cause.”
Separate from the co-op’s efforts, the county committee is seeking funds to build a 300-mile internet infrastructure project that would run through each of the county’s 39 towns. (The group didn’t get the $26 million dollar federal grant it applied for last year).
Internet service providers could connect to this “middle-mile” infrastructure to reach new customers and offer better service to existing customers. Park said the committee knows NHEC doesn’t service all the communities in Grafton County and some towns may not be fully covered.
The committee plans to ask the county later this month to use about $3.3 million of its American Rescue Plan funds to create detailed level designs for each town so that they can have plans in place to take advantage of new opportunities to build out the last mile of connecting homes and businesses to fiber internet.
The broadband service will be offered to NHEC members in the following towns:
Ashland, Bath, Benton, Bridgewater, Bristol, Campton, Canaan, Dorchester, Easton, Ellsworth, Grafton, Groton, Hanover, Haverhill, Hebron, Holderness, Landaff, Lisbon, Littleton, Lyman, Monroe, New Hampton, Orange, Orford, Piermont, Plymouth, Rumney, Sugar Hill, Thornton, Warren, Wentworth, Woodstock.