With New Broadband Fund, One N.H. Town Is Optimistic About Its Internet Future | New Hampshire Public Radio

With New Broadband Fund, One N.H. Town Is Optimistic About Its Internet Future

Jul 2, 2020

Julie Dolan knows the Internet in her hometown of Sandwich is bad. She had to hop on the phone with her doctor Thursday morning because the video connection for her telehealth appointment stopped working.

So, she says she was pleased when Gov. Chris Sununu announced in June that $50 million in federal funds would be available for broadband projects in New Hampshire.

As chairperson of Sandwich’s broadband committee, Dolan’s been working on bringing faster Internet to town for the past year.

“We have many people in this town who would like to live here full time, but don’t,” she said. “We have publishers, editors and researchers who literally cannot do their work from here.”

About 13 percent of Sandwich residents get Internet that meets the federal definition of broadband, or 25 megabits per second download speed and 3 megabits per second upload speed.

Before the pandemic hit, the broadband committee had put out a request for proposals to bring fiber Internet to town. Dolan and her committee received three responses to that request.  

With the pandemic though, Dolan says what was once a challenge has become a crisis for people who don’t have fast, reliable Internet.

So when the state announced the availability funds, Dolan says her town was better positioned to apply than others, since the application only allows for projects that have been planned and permitted but construction hasn’t started.  

Sandwich submitted a proposal for a $2.5 million project that would get fiber Internet to all of the town’s residents.

“This town is the perfect fit. This is exactly what this money is meant for. A town like this that’s very rural, that’s very sparsely populated,” she said. “We have a lot of miles of road and not a lot of houses. Those are the ones that have been ignored and left behind by big companies. There’s no return on investment for those big companies.”

But Dolan says she thinks Sandwich’s application could potentially be a long shot. She says the state’s application requirements are stringent, and in her view, make it harder for towns like Sandwich in this process.

In a letter to the governor, congressional delegation and other state officials, Dolan said requirements such has needing to have signed agreements for access to utility poles, a heavily weighted score for lowest cost to the state per household served and upfront costs by applicants disadvantage potential applicants in rural communities.

“I think what it’s aiming for are good public-private partnerships between towns and companies,” she said. “But basically the only ones who stand to gain from this are large private companies that have poles, that have wires that have construction companies that have the crew to be able to do this.”

The state will announce funding recipients in mid-July. Because of constraints around the federal funds from the CARES Act, projects must be completed by Dec. 15, 2020.