Acworth, NHEC Celebrate a Rural Broadband Milestone

Acworth, NHEC Celebrate a Rural Broadband Milestone

ACWORTH, NH – It used to take more than 18 hours for the United Church of Acworth to upload one weekly church service to the internet, recalled parishioner Sally Eaton, if its slow connection didn’t time out first. But since the launch this month of New Hampshire Electric Cooperative’s (NHEC) town-wide fiber-optic service, the job is done in minutes.

“Our mission is to share our services with everyone, and this is making it much easier to do that,” Eaton told a gathering of town officials, residents and others celebrating the arrival July 14 of high-speed internet to this Sullivan County town of fewer than a thousand residents. Some parishioners are not physically able to attend services, Eaton explained, others are traveling but want to feel part of the congregation when they’re away. A new 1-Gig fiber internet connection in the historic church is already providing new ways to bring people together in a place that’s been the center of town life for more than 200 years.

The start of service to Acworth this month marks the fifth town that NHEC has connected to broadband internet via its subsidiary, NH Broadband. Fiber-optic networks built in Colebrook, Clarksville, Stewartstown and Lempster are online and serving NHEC members in locations where high-speed service options have been limited or non-existent. NHEC and NH Broadband will start service to the Town of Sandwich later this summer, and recently announced plans to expand into more than 30 Grafton County towns in the next 18 months.

“All the credit goes to you, the members,” said NHEC Board Chair Jeffrey Morrill, explaining that NHEC’s push for high-speed internet access began as a member-driven response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which exposed New Hampshire’s digital divide and made rural access to high-speed internet “an essential service.”

Gregg Thibodeau, an Acworth resident and Lead of the Acworth Broadband Committee, said that townspeople had been getting by with slow connections for years, but the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the need for faster service that could keep up with the new demand for bandwidth.

“On behalf of the several hundred anxious, internet customers in town, I can’t begin to tell you what high speed broadband service means to them,” Thibodeau said. “And even though COVID is abating, we are not likely to turn back the clock on the internet demand. More often folks are looking for jobs online, remote working opportunities, training, and schooling, which can be very time consuming and limited in our rural community.”

Thibodeau said high-speed internet is also helping his work on the Acworth Conservation Commission, as the group seeks to protect and conserve the town’s resources.

“We need access to online tools and data, such as GRANITView, ARCGIS, NH Fish & Game and DES studies and maps and UNH’s Cooperative Extension information. Accessing layers of maps for two or three properties in GRANITView was a two-to-four-hour exercise for me, now it takes minutes.”

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Celebrating a rural broadband milestone in Acworth on July 14 were representatives of the Town of Acworth, state government, United Church of Acworth, NHEC, NH Broadband and its project partners.

NHEC to Expand NH Broadband Fiber-optic Network to 32 Grafton County Towns

PLYMOUTH, NH (March 1, 2022) – New Hampshire Electric Cooperative’s (NHEC) Board of Directors has voted to move forward with a major expansion of the Co-op’s broadband efforts. The Board authorized NH Broadband, the Co-op’s internet subsidiary, to proceed with construction of fiber-optic networks that will provide high-speed internet service to nearly 17,000 homes and businesses in 32 towns across Grafton County, one of the most underserved areas of the state. This project does not require bonding or other financial commitment by the towns.

Grafton County has a high concentration of areas that do not have access to broadband internet. Last year, NHEC secured funding to help provide these unserved areas with fiber-optic, high-speed internet service through the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction. NHEC’s expansion in Grafton County will focus on reaching these unserved members.

NHEC is moving forward with the planning and development of its Grafton County expansion to meet its members’ critical need for high-speed internet as quickly as possible. While work gets underway, NHEC will be pursuing grant opportunities that the State of New Hampshire will make available in the near future from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The Grafton County project will help bridge the digital divide for residents in some of the most underserved areas of the state, with the goal of completing construction in 18 months.

“This expansion is a milestone for rural broadband access in New Hampshire,” said NHEC Board Chair Jeffrey Morrill. “Just two years ago we were in the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic and thousands of our members were quite literally cut off from a world that went virtual nearly overnight. It speaks to the value of member-owned cooperatives like NHEC that can respond quickly and effectively to the needs of its members. I’m proud of the work NHEC and the Board have done to lead the effort for universal broadband access in New Hampshire.”

“High-speed internet has been a long time coming to rural New Hampshire,” said NH Broadband Chair and NHEC Board member Leo Dwyer. “This expansion of NH Broadband’s network will connect thousands of NHEC members to an essential service in a part of the state that really needs it. It’s what we and our members envisioned when they asked us to provide broadband internet service in 2020. In many ways, it mirrors the Co-op’s drive to bring light and power to the same areas more than 80 years ago.”

NH Broadband’s fiber-optic networks are capable of providing upload and download speeds in excess of 1 Gigabit per second to meet NHEC’s members’ needs today and into the future. The service will be offered to NHEC members in the following Grafton County 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.

One of the NHEC members looking forward to receiving service said NH Broadband’s expansion is good news for rural residents across the state.

“I respect and appreciate the responsiveness of the Co-op to this member initiative,” said Richard Knox of New Hampshire Broadband Advocates, a grassroots group that has advocated for expanded broadband access in the state. “It signifies that NHEC means business when it says it wants to provide this essential service to rural towns overlooked by other internet providers.”

In 2020, with support from the Connecting New Hampshire – Emergency Broadband Expansion Program, NHEC constructed fiber-optic networks that provided over 1,000 of its members high-speed internet access in Lempster, Colebrook, Stewartstown, and Clarksville. In 2021, NHEC began the construction of fiber-optic networks in Acworth and Sandwich, which will make broadband available to another 1,800 homes and businesses. The Sandwich and Acworth projects are supported by a grant from the Northern Border Regional Commission (NBRC), and federal funding that Senator Jeanne Shaheen and Congressman Chris Pappas are working to secure. NHEC also anticipates applying for funds from ARPA.

In this early stage of planning, service availability dates by town are not yet available for Grafton County towns included in the network expansion. However, NH Broadband will be posting construction updates and other news on its website: www.NHBroadband.com and on its Facebook Page at www.facebook.com/NHBroadband.

NHEC Has Contracted with Conexon for Next Steps on Major Fiber-Optic Broadband Project

PLYMOUTH, NH (December 16, 2021) – New Hampshire Electric Cooperative (NHEC) has entered into a contract with Conexon, a national fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) rural broadband solutions provider that works exclusively with electric cooperatives, to deliver high-speed internet to NHEC members in 118 communities who now lack it.

The contract will enable NHEC’s new subsidiary, NH Broadband, to take the next steps in its plan to ensure that all NHEC members have access to affordable, reliable, high-speed internet.

A rural fiber-optic network design and construction management leader, Conexon works exclusively with rural electric cooperatives to design and build state-of-the-art fiber-optic networks. This year Conexon will complete construction of over 40,000 miles of fiber-optic networks for cooperatives across the country.

Conexon will work with NH Broadband to bring fiber-optic service to a wide area of rural New Hampshire that has been largely overlooked by existing internet providers. NH Broadband’s plan is to construct networks utilizing the latest XGS-PON technology. These networks will be capable of symmetrical download and upload speeds of up to 1 Gigabit per second – a technology that can meet the needs of NHEC members today and well into the future.

Through this relationship with Conexon, NH Broadband will begin critical planning and pre-construction work, positioning itself to hit the ground running when grant opportunities become available. As funding is secured, NH Broadband’s goal is to construct fiber-optic networks that ensure all 85,000 NHEC members in 118 communities across nine counties have access to high-speed internet. Under this plan, NH Broadband will make significant progress towards bridging the rural digital divide in New Hampshire.

The critical effort to expand rural broadband access gained new urgency as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, as the rapid shift to remote work and learning left many rural residents with slow or no internet connectivity struggling to keep up. As it did in the 1930s, when it brought electricity to rural New Hampshire, NHEC is committed to making this equally essential service available to all its members.

The project builds upon NHEC’s current FTTH project encompassing two of the cooperative’s communities, Acworth and Sandwich, that will provide fiber-optic access to nearly 1,800 underserved homes and businesses. Those networks are scheduled to go online in early 2022. One year ago, NH Broadband connected its first customers in Lempster, Colebrook, Stewartstown and Clarksville, when it completed fiber-optic networks utilizing a grant from the Connecting NH Emergency Broadband Expansion Program. Those networks are currently providing over 1,000 previously unserved NHEC members with access to world-class high-speed internet service.

“We are thrilled to work closely with Conexon for this undertaking,” said NH Broadband’s executive chair, Leo Dwyer. “With their expertise and the pending availability of federal and state grants, a wide swath of rural New Hampshire will finally be connected to priceless economic, educational and lifestyle opportunities that have been beyond reach until now.”

“We’re very excited to work with the New Hampshire Electric management team and board to serve their members with fiber broadband,” Conexon Founding Partner Randy Klindt said. “New Hampshire is in desperate need of world-class broadband and this project will go a long way in closing the digital divide within the state. It’s going to be transformative.”

About NH Broadband

NH Broadband (NHB) is a subsidiary of New Hampshire Electric Cooperative (NHEC), which serves 85,000 members in 118 New Hampshire communities. NHB collaborates with industry partners, municipalities, and counties in the pursuit of better connectivity for the people of New Hampshire. NHB is developing fiber-to-the-home networks capable of up to 1 Gigabit symmetrical upload and download speeds.

 About Conexon

Conexon works with Rural Electric Cooperatives to bring fiber to the home in rural communities. The company is composed of professionals who have worked in electric cooperatives and the telecommunications industry, and offer decades of individual experience in business planning, building networks, marketing and selling telecommunications. Conexon offers its electric cooperative clients end-to-end broadband deployment and operations support, from a project’s inception all the way through to its long-term sustainability. It works with clients to analyze economic feasibility, secure financing, design the network, manage construction, provide operational support, optimize business performance and determine optimal partnerships. To date, Conexon has assisted nearly 200 electric cooperatives, nearly 50 of which are deploying fiber networks, with more than 150,000 connected fiber-to-the-home subscribers across the U.S. The company has secured over $1.3 billion in federal and state funding for its clients.

Broadband for All: A Priceless Opportunity

By Leo Dwyer

High-speed internet is coming to rural New Hampshire. It can’t happen too soon!

Before COVID-19 hit last year, residents of many Granite State communities were raising their voices about the need for 21st-century broadband so they could enjoy the kind of connectivity people in more densely populated areas take for granted. When the pandemic sent us home to work and learn, broadband flipped from nice-to-have to must-have.

Now, thanks to a bipartisan national push to provide government support, New Hampshire has a rare opportunity to build fast, “future-proof” broadband for its residents at a scale and pace unimaginable just two years ago. That’s the message of the just-passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The Infrastructure Act sends a minimum of $100 million to New Hampshire for broadband expansion to unserved and under-served communities. That’s on top of the $121 million New Hampshire already has in hand for such projects under the American Rescue Plan Act.

That $221 million investment is truly a NH broadband game-changer. It dovetails with the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative’s big goal, announced earlier this year, to ensure that reliable and affordable high speed broadband service is available to every one of our members, and to achieve that goal within three years.

This could simply not happen without government funding. Providing reliable high-speed internet to low-density rural communities requires up-front investment. And as we’ve seen, the for-profit internet providers have not been interested in making those types of investments on their own.

It’s exactly like the situation eight decades ago. Rural America lacked electric power until the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 set up a national system of member-owned electric utilities, including NH Electric Co-op.

How did New Hampshire get to the verge of closing the rural broadband gap? It started two years ago with individual towns like Chesterfield taking the initiative and floating bonds for small single town fiber networks which they turned over to for-profit operators to provide service.

Meanwhile a different model has emerged. The member-owned NH Electric Co-op has taken up the challenge, committing to deliver broadband service on a more regional scale. Last year members overwhelmingly endorsed the idea twice in two separate votes.

This past December the Co-op lit up fiber in four towns. Its new nonprofit subsidiary, NH Broadband, is currently expanding that initial build to two more towns that go live this spring. These initiatives make world class gigabit internet service available to 2,500 of the Co-op’s most underserved members at an affordable price.

That’s a meaningful start. But members’ needs, and economic imperatives argue strongly for a comprehensive regional approach. It will take cooperation between the Co-op, municipalities, counties, and regional planers to ensure that coverage in rural NH is widespread. Broadband fiber needs to go down every dirt road to reach every house, no matter who the electric supplier is.

The $221 million in federal funding is a game changer, but these grant funds will provide only a part of the necessary funding. The Co-op has already committed significant resources to our plan; it will continue to invest more as we look to join with like-minded institutions to help maximize the aggregate benefit of that $221 million to the residents of rural New Hampshire.

It’s no accident that some 400 electric co-ops around the nation are leading the way in building rural broadband networks. The Co-op model has important advantages:

  • Nonprofit, member-owned co-ops have low return-on-investment requirements for these capital-intensive networks compared to for-profit providers’ 15 to 20 percent ROI targets. That translates into sustainable lower subscriber rates for high-speed service.
  • The infrastructure needed for broadband, including rights-of-way and poles, is the same that co-ops use to deliver electricity to members.
  • Fiber-optic infrastructure offers important synergies for the electrical side of the business, improving grid reliability and efficiency, providing the ability for more renewable generating sources, giving members greater control over their bills, and helping pinpoint outages and speeding restoration of service.

On top of all that, broadband access means higher property values, better services, and the ability to live a fully connected life. For many working professionals and students, that makes it possible to remain in – or move to – the beautiful rural communities that make New Hampshire such an attractive place to live.

Now that substantial new funding is beginning to flow, time is of the essence. Competition is keen for necessary resources – the fiber, the skilled installers, the specialized trucks. We need to act quickly.

Because of the high capital investment required to serve sparsely populated areas, whoever builds fiber in rural communities will hold an unregulated, long-term lock on broadband services. Those communities will be best-served if that power falls to organizations like NHEC that are owned by the citizens they serve.

The payoff will be transformative: A wide swath of rural New Hampshire will get connected to priceless economic, educational and lifestyle opportunities now beyond their reach.

Leo Dwyer is on the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative’s board of directors and is Executive Chair of NH Broadband LLC, its broadband subsidiary. NHEC serves 85,000 members in 118 New Hampshire communities.

High-Speed Internet Coming to Acworth and Sandwich

 

PLYMOUTH, NH (July 22, 2021) – New Hampshire Electric Cooperative (NHEC) is moving forward with plans to make high-speed internet service available to more than 1,500 homes and businesses in the towns of Sandwich and Acworth.

NHEC, through its subsidiary NH Broadband, will construct fiber optic networks to provide high-speed internet service throughout both communities. Service is expected to be available early 2022. NHEC will be communicating directly with residents of both towns in the coming months and will be providing updates at www.NHBroadband.com.

The project in Sandwich would be supported by federal funding that U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen and Congressman Chris Pappas are working to secure. If received, the funding will help reduce the cost of construction.

Residents of Sandwich and Acworth can pre-register for service and learn more about the project at www.NHBroadband.com. NH Broadband offers internet service options that are designed to meet customers’ needs today and into the future with symmetrical Gigabit upload and download speeds available.

NH Broadband was founded in 2020 to meet the critical need of NHEC’s members for high-speed internet access. Since then, NH Broadband has made high-speed internet service available to more than 1,000 NHEC members in Lempster, Clarksville, Colebrook and Stewartstown.

“Providing high-speed internet access to the residents and businesses of Sandwich and Acworth are the next steps towards NHEC’s goal of ensuring that all our members have access to the reliable broadband they need,” said Jeff Morrill, Chair of the Co-op’s Board of Directors. “The Co-op is moving quickly to expand our existing networks and take advantage of emerging funding opportunities. We appreciate Senator Shaheen and Congressman Pappas’sefforts to secure funding to support this project and the hard work and dedication of the residents in both towns.”

“We appreciate the Co-op’s recognition of the Town’s dire need for 21st-century internet service and the citizen committee’s efforts in making it happen,” said Joanne Haight Chair of the Sandwich Board of Selectmen.

“Acworth is pleased to announce that NHEC will be providing high-speed broadband internet to our town,” said Gregg Thibodeau, Acworth Broadband Committee Lead. “We have been looking at options to bring broadband service to the town due to the increase in demand for broadband service and the COVID pandemic. NHEC through their due diligence in proving their ability and obtaining federal funds quickly became our number one choice to partner with. Our town’s experience with NHEC as a utility company has been great, their broadband architecture is state of the art, their broadband service costs are competitive and we received really good feedback from the work they are doing rolling out broadband in Lempster.”

NHEC’s expansion decisions are made based on the availability of grants, proximity to existing networks, and interest expressed by residents. NHEC has reached out to communities throughout its electric service territory to coordinate efforts and achieve the shared goal of providing high-speed internet access to the unserved and underserved areas of New Hampshire.

NHEC Hosts Vice President Kamala Harris for Broadband Listening Session

NHEC Hosts Vice President Kamala Harris for Broadband Listening Session

PLYMOUTH, NH – Today, United States Vice President Kamala Harris visited the Plymouth headquarters of New Hampshire Electric Cooperative (NHEC) to discuss the Co-op’s efforts to expand high-speed internet access to rural New Hampshire and highlight federal funding opportunities in the American Jobs Plan to support future investments.

Vice President Harris was joined by United States Senator Maggie Hassan, and met with NHEC representatives and Lempster Select Board Chair Phil Tirrell. Last year, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and appeals from its members, NHEC secured two grants from the Connecting New Hampshire Emergency Broadband Expansion Program. Those grants supported the construction of fiber-optic networks in Lempster, Colebrook, Stewartstown and Clarksville. Through its subsidiary NH Broadband, NHEC is now providing nearly 1,000 previously unserved members with access to high-speed internet.

Recalling NHEC’s mission to provide electricity to rural New Hampshire some 80 years ago, Vice President Harris encouraged the same spirit in extending rural access to broadband internet.

“In 1939 that pole was built and it’s still there,” she said, referring to the Co-op’s first electric pole set in Lempster, NH 82 years ago, “and why we’re here today is because of what you have been doing in this co-op.”

Part of the American Jobs Plan includes a proposed $100 billion in spending to increase access to broadband internet, Harris said.

“It’s the same thing that our country decided to do in 1936, saying let’s get electricity to everybody, and rural America should not be left out of that priority…This really is an incredible moment in our history. Not unlike what our country did with electricity, we can do with broadband, so let’s get it done.”

NHEC’s Board of Directors has adopted a goal of ensuring that all Co-op members have access to affordable, reliable, high-speed internet. NHEC is working to expand its current fiber optic networks, and identify additional funding opportunities and strategic partners.

“Thank you Vice President Harris for coming to Plymouth and putting a spotlight on the need for rural internet access,” said Tom Mongeon, Chair of NHEC’s Board of Directors. “It is encouraging to see attention being giving to the needs of our members at the highest levels of government. NHEC exists to serve our members and we are working hard to ensure that they have access to the high-speed internet they need.”

Steve Camerino, NHEC’s President and CEO, highlighted the Co-op’s work to provide broadband access to its members and stressed that electric cooperatives are ideally suited to help bridge the rural digital divide.

“We were honored to host Vice President Harris and appreciate her taking the time to learn more about NHEC and our work to expand broadband,” said Camerino. “Access to affordable, reliable, high-speed internet service is critical to our members and the communities we serve. Federal funding is vital to support our efforts, and it is exciting to hear about the opportunities to expand rural broadband in the American Jobs Plan.”