Broadband

Access to affordable, reliable, high speed internet is critical for the vitality of NHEC’s members and the communities we serve. However, due to the rural nature of the Co-op’s service territory, many NHEC members do not have access to these services. In response to this pressing need, NHEC is working to help ensure all Co-op members have access to broadband internet service.

As NHEC has explored various options and opportunities to expand high speed internet access, it has become apparent that the Co-op’s bylaws do not provide the flexibility required to quickly and efficiently take advantage of emerging opportunities, including government funding options. While NHEC can provide its members with services and goods other than electric service, like broadband, our bylaws require a lengthy approval process of the business and funding opportunities for these “other goods and services.” 

A member vote is needed to update NHEC’s bylaws to provide the Co-op with the flexibility to quickly and efficiently take advantage of available opportunities to ensure all members have access to high speed internet.

Broadband Q&A

Why is NHEC working to provide members with broadband internet service?

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into focus the critical need for high speed internet service throughout New Hampshire. For far too long rural communities have been disadvantaged due to the lack of high-speed internet. As virtual business activity, remote learning, and telemedicine have become the norm, the limited, often unreliable, services available in these communities today do not meet the needs of NHEC members.

Video conferences for business, or between a student and teacher, require a much higher level of connectivity and reliability than exists today in many areas. Even those with 25/3 Mbps internet service struggle to maintain their connections. These limitations, and ever evolving technologies, emphasize the importance of developing systems that will meet the needs of NHEC members into the future.

Electric cooperatives, like NHEC, played an essential role in bringing electricity to rural areas in the late 1930s. The same need exists now with high speed internet access. Today, NHEC provides electric distribution service to 85,000 members, located in 115 towns across New Hampshire. Our service territory extends as far south as Derry, and as far north as Pittsburg. Just as it brought electricity to rural New Hampshire over 80 years ago, NHEC is uniquely positioned to help bring high speed internet to these same areas today. Over 100 electric cooperatives across the country now offer broadband services to their members. NHEC is exploring options to ensure our members have access to this essential service. 

 

What is NHEC doing to expand broadband access to its members?

NHEC is actively working with strategic partners to identify grant opportunities and different pathways the Co-op can pursue to help ensure all member have access to affordable, reliable, high speed internet. In July, NHEC made two applications for funding to support pilot projects through the Connecting New Hampshire Emergency Broadband Expansion Program. In August, the State of New Hampshire announced that NHEC’s projects to provide 845 unserved members in Lempster, Colebrook, Stewartstown, and Clarksville were selected for funding. Work has begun on these projects, and more information about service offerings, pricing, and locations will be available in the near future. These projects are the first steps towards a larger goal of ensuring all NHEC members have access to high speed internet.

 

Wasn’t there just a vote on broadband, why is NHEC holding another one?

As part of NHEC’s annual director election process, a group of NHEC members petitioned to add a ballot question adding “facilitating access to broadband internet for members” as one of the core purposes for which the Co-op was formed. While the ballot question fell just short of achieving the two-thirds necessary for adoption, the strong support it received demonstrated member desire for NHEC to more aggressively pursue broadband.

Although the Board of Directors opposed the ballot question as submitted, because it could have created a competing priority for the organization, the Board was, and remains, committed to finding ways to help provide high speed internet to all NHEC members. The vote that will be held in September is for a different purpose than the previous vote put forth by the group of members, and would be necessary even if the earlier vote had passed.

As NHEC has explored various options to expand high speed internet access, it has become apparent that the Co-op’s bylaws do not provide the flexibility required for NHEC to quickly and efficiently take advantage of the available opportunities. A member vote is needed to enable NHEC to quickly pursue opportunities that would provide all Co-op members with access to affordable high speed internet service. These opportunities include applying for local, state, and federal funding, partnering with other organizations, creating an affiliate to provide broadband, or potentially owning and operating a broadband network. The change in the bylaws would allow NHEC to pursue these options with approval from either the Board of Directors or by a member vote, depending upon the details of the opportunity. 

NHEC’s board of Directors fully supports the proposed change in the Co-op’s bylaws.

 

Why do the bylaws need to be changed?

NHEC’s bylaws currently require a member vote for many transactions which involve the acquisition of non-electric equipment and facilities. It takes a minimum of nearly three months each time a member vote is held, which limits NHEC’s ability to apply for funding opportunities.

The proposed bylaw amendments will enable NHEC to move quickly and pursue local, state, and federal grants or partnerships. The proposed changes would also allow NHEC to complete needed transactions using the same Board of Directors and member approval requirements that are currently used when the Co-op acquires materials and property to provide electric service.

NHEC’s Board of Directors unanimously supports the proposed change in the Co-op’s bylaws.

When is the member vote?

Notices were mailed to members on August 14 and ballots were sent on September 15. Voting will end on October 14. A meeting of NHEC members will be held on October 20, at 10:00 AM to receive the results.

Will these efforts to expand broadband increase the price I pay for electricity?

NHEC’s Board of Directors is evaluating different approaches to provide broadband service to all members. The Board will carefully analyze all options, including accessing local, state, and federal grant opportunities, to minimize the potential costs and maximize the benefits to members and the Co-op. Members who take broadband service will pay for it, and over time offering broadband has the potential to reduce the cost of electricity service by creating new sources of non-electric revenues and potential cost savings. 

How long will it take before every NHEC member has access to broadband?

NHEC’s Board of Directors is evaluating different options to providing broadband service to all members. It could take several years before we achieve our goal. 

Will these efforts impact my electric service?

No. NHEC members will continue to receive the same high level of electricity service. In fact, having high speed internet available throughout NHEC’s service territory has the potential to help us respond to outages faster and more widely provide additional electricity services, like demand response programs. 

Why can’t another company provide broadband services?

Unlike for-profit telecommunications companies, NHEC is a member-owned, non-profit cooperative. We are governed by the democratic process and we are singularly focused on meeting our members’ needs. We believe that the cooperative model allows us to provide services to our members when others will not, because we are not limited by the requirement to generate profits for investors. This makes NHEC well suited to bring high speed internet service to unserved areas of rural New Hampshire.

There are many different ways NHEC can bring high speed internet to its members, including partnering with another organization that would build and operate a new network, accessing local, state, and federal funding opportunities, or by constructing the “backbone” network that other companies could use to offer services to members.

Acting on these opportunities requires a change in NHEC’s bylaws to give the Co-op the flexibility it needs to move quickly. If the bylaw amendment is adopted, pursuing any of these options would still require further approval of the Board of Directors.

 

What type of internet service is NHEC considering offering to its members?

Specific service offerings still need to be developed, but for its two pilot projects, NHEC proposed constructing an all fiber optic network, that could offer speeds up to 1 Gigabit symmetrical upload and download. NHEC’s goal is to build a network capable of meeting our members’ needs into the future.

News & Events

On October 20th at 10 am, NHEC will hold a virtual Member Meeting to announce the results of the broadband vote.  Registration is required to attend.

Voting Opens on Proposed NHEC Bylaw Amendments

PLYMOUTH, NH – Ballots are mailing today to members of New Hampshire Electric Cooperative (NHEC), who will decide if the company’s bylaws should be amended to make it easier for NHEC to provide access to broadband internet for its members. Members have the option of...