Broadband Deal is “Too Good to Be True”

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Senate Bill 170 has allowed rural Chesterfield, NH to partner with Consolidated Communications for a project that will bring fiber-optic internet access to the town, the Sentinel Source reported. Former selectman Brad Roscoe has been lobbying to bring broadband to Chesterfield for years, and this proposal finally allows the town a solution that does not require taxpayers to pay for the expansion.

Under SB 170, municipalities are now able to fund broadband infrastructure through bonds even when a commercial provider is not involved. 

Roscoe said, “Providers are not going to invest in the rural areas. Their business models don’t support it. Houses are too far apart; it just doesn’t make any economic sense.”

According to the Sentinel Source, Consolidated Communications will provide a $1.8 million bond over 20 years, with an additional $2.5 million to fund a fiber optic network across the town. Subscribers will be able to choose the speed and length of commitment for their service, and prices will range from $49.99 to $199.99 monthly depending on their choice.

During a town meeting on January 19, Roscoe detailed the plans for the project, and covered the current struggles the town experiences with coverage. 16 percent of Chesterfield has download speeds of less than 25 Mbps, 12 percent has speeds lower than 10 Mbps, and six percent has speeds less than three Mbps.

The deal with Consolidated Communications will increase the download speeds in town to one Gbps. At the meeting, residents and officials seemed supportive of the proposal. Former member of the town broadband committee, James Hancock, said, “This is the absolute best thing we could have in this town. There’s no additional cost…and this is exactly the right thing to do right now.” Chesterfield’s town moderator, Rebecca Todd, said she thinks people will see the project as “too good to be true,” and asked Consolidated Communications’ vice president, Robert Koester, how the plan benefits his company.

After SB 170 was passed, the town received five proposals from three providers, and the one with Consolidated Communications was the only one that offered no cost to the town due to a $10 monthly infrastructure fee paid by subscribers that will cover the principal and interest on the bond. Koester said the business model of having the infrastructure fees offset the bond should be implemented in other rural areas that are seeking broadband access.

Koester referred to the plan as a “pilot,” for this type of model, and said, “Everybody’s got skin in the game, and everybody wins.” The town’s board of selectmen approved the proposal in early January, and to move forward it must be approved by a two-thirds majority of voters at Chesterfield’s annual business meeting on March 16. It is estimated to take 12 to 24 months to complete the project. More information on Senate Bill 170 can be found here: https://legiscan.com/NH/bill/SB170/2018.  Comments? Email Us.

February 5, 2019                                              

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