Spurred on by a 2018 law change and new private investment, the state’s largest telephone company is building fiber optic links to tens of thousands of homes in southern New Hampshire, the largest expansion of high-speed internet that rural New Hampshire has seen in many years.
“Greater Cheshire County is now an amazing rural broadband success story. … We are on the Seacoast, the southeastern part of the state. All told, we’re building 144,000 homes this year, ”said Eric Garr, President of Consumer and Small Business Services at Consolidated Communications.
Consolidated spans fiber optic cables on poles and connects them to subscribers’ homes in a number of cities and offers synchronous gigabit services or up to 1,000 megabits of both upload and download for $ 70 per month. This is faster, often much faster than anything currently available to most homes, and online reports from customers show that the system’s speeds were as expected.
In most municipalities, construction is supported in part by the issuance of a long-term bond by the city, which is repaid from the subscription fees.
“I think it was a really bright star for a lot of churches. There are currently around 20 cities in negotiations trying to partner with Consolidated, ”said Carol Miller, who ran an ISP and was the state’s broadband technology director before retiring. She is now the Director of Broadband Initiatives at the National Collaborative for Digital Equity.
Consolidated expansion began two years ago in the small town of Chesterfield near Keene and has picked up speed despite the pandemic. In fact, pandemic lockdowns could spur them: “What we’ve all seen in the past year is the best argument for broadband,” said Garr.
From Consolidated’s perspective, last year’s investment of $ 425 million by Searchlight Capital Partners, a private investment firm, was a major boost. “We’re putting that money, much of it in New Hampshire,” said Garr. “We have over 60 crews working in northern New England.”
Consolidated, which provides fixed line services to most of the state, including most of the Concord area, is ultimately planning to provide fiber-to-home connections with synchronous gigabit Internet for approximately 70% of the space in the three northern New England states. somewhere around 1.2 million apartments. Garr said there is still no schedule for when the high-speed service will come to Concord.
Extension financial and ownership details may vary. In densely populated places like Keene, where there are enough customers per mile, Consolidated builds and operates the system itself. In more rural towns, part of the installation costs are paid for by the community through 20-year bonds that must be approved by and through the annual meeting a fee will be paid to broadband subscribers. Usually the city owns the system after the loan is repaid, although the details differ.
This process was made possible by the adoption of SB170 in 2018, which made it a lot easier for cities to use bonds for broadband, just as they are used for road construction and other large capital projects. This usage had been opposed for years by phone companies and cables, who argued that governments shouldn’t compete with the private sector, but their slowness in expanding high-speed Internet across well-populated areas eventually overcame that objection.
The best example of business falling short was in the Nashua area, where Verizon installed fiber optic cables in homes a decade ago as part of the FiOS system. After a few years, the company decided the return on investment wasn’t working and left New Hampshire. It sold these systems along with the Northern New England telephone network to FairPoint, which never expanded the fiber network. FairPoint was sold to Consolidated Communications in 2017.
Ironically, this expansion could be halted by federal efforts to improve Internet access. The US bailout plan calls for $ 7 billion in broadband grants, and a grant is much cheaper than a long-term loan.
“Funding from the federal government has somehow shaken the comfort of the cities and towns with the bond. You ask yourself: what if I get a scholarship? ”Said Müller.
The other concern with expansion is that technologies will change, leading to concerns that upgrades will become obsolete before they bring in enough to pay off the investment.
Telephone companies often deploy copper wire to the Internet using a technology called DSL, the speed and usage limits of which were once acceptable but are out of date. (Garr said that for technical reasons, Consolidated usually leaves the copper lines in their homes even after installing fiber optics.) Cable television companies also had to spend a lot of money changing the one-way system they were built on to two-way internet.
The great advantage of fiber optic cables, which transmit information via light instead of electricity, is that they are considered “future-proof” because they can process so much information that they are not overwhelmed when they are on the move.
“The real challenge for homes is getting this fiber all the way to your home. Once it’s there, it’s a very useful commodity, ”Garr said. “The most likely scenario is that the electronics change – which they always do. The fiber is the stuff that gives us the ability to do these things. “
(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or [email protected] or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)