Friday, March 21, 2008

High Speed Broadband Needed

One part of my campaign platform when I ran for Selectman in Gilford was the need for an up to date, future-proof broadband telecommunications network. In order for our town to attract future businesses and future residents, as well retain existing businesses and stop the brain drain of younger residents leaving New Hampshire for high tech jobs, we need to make sure our telecommunications infrastructure is up to the task. At present the existing broadband infrastructure in Belknap, Carrol, and southern Grafton Counties is barely adequate in towns where it exists. Even in towns that do have broadband connectivity, coverage is not universal, such as it is with telephone service. This is something that needs to change.

One thing that is evident is that the existing telephone and cable companies won't be stepping up to the plate any time soon. FairPoint Communications, née Verizon, will be deploying DSL in areas presently not being served by broadband. Unfortunately DSL is old technology and will be incapable of providing bandwidth future Internet applications and services will require. The cable companies can come close, but their timetable for deploying higher speed Internet connectivity puts off the necessary upgrades to years in the future. They have no pressing need to upgrade any time soon because they have no credible competition. Maybe it's time they get some.

If we can't get the existing providers to step up and give the towns 21st Century connectivity, then it's up to us, the residents of the Lakes Region, to do it instead.

What I'm talking about is a public/private partnership to build a Fiber To The Home (FTTH) network, providing universal broadband service to every resident wanting it.

If done properly it will end up costing the towns nothing in the way of tax money to build out the networks. And before you ask, it can be done because it has been done elsewhere.

One of the latest efforts to build a network in an underserved rural area is just across the Connecticut River in Vermont.

The East Central Vermont Community Fiber Network is one of the first regional efforts to bring Fiber-to-the-Home to as many as 25 towns from Williamstown to Hartford, Vermont. Work is now underway to create the legal entity for this project. Each town in the region will be given the opportunity to join the network.

By working together:
- we can insure that the most modern high-speed service is available to ALL residents of central Vermont towns.
- costs will be much lower than they would be for individual town efforts.
- our financing package can be negotiated; town bonding will not be required.
The current plan is to move forward as soon after the 2008 Town Meeting as possible. First service to participating towns could follow in a period as soon as 12-14 months.

I believe we here in the Lakes Region should follow a similar course. While the conditions that will define what we need maybe be somewhat different than those in Vermont, they are similar enough that we can follow a lot of their plans to get us where we need to be. It is something we should seriously consider.

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