Several small towns in the state have taken advantage of the new legislation and have entered into a partnership with Consolidated Communications, the incumbent telephone company serving much of the state. Consolidated became the incumbent after acquiring Fairpoint in February 2017.
The latest announced partnership is for Dublin, NH, a town of a little more than 1,500 residents. In the announced partnership, Dublin will finance a $1.3 million bond to build fiber to every resident and business in the town. The bond passed by a vote of 223 to 5. The town will own the network and has partnered with Consolidated to operate the business.
On paper, Consolidated will make the bond payments, but in fact, the residents of the town will make the payments. Consolidated plans to add a surcharge to each broadband bill of $11.50 per month. I assume the surcharge will go away once the bonds have been retired. Residents are not required to subscribe to broadband and won’t pay the surcharge unless they are a broadband customer.
The partnership in Dublin follows a similar partnership last year in Chesterfield, a town of 3,600. Other New Hampshire towns are weighing similar partnerships – with Consolidated and with other ISPs.
These partnerships are unique in that the towns are trusting their network to the incumbent telecom provider. Granted, Consolidated is new to the state and is probably being viewed as a breath of fresh air. The company is also investing in fiber in larger communities in the state and announced it will build fiber to pass over 86,000 residents in the state. There was a lot of frustration with the previous incumbent Fairpoint, which seemed unwilling to build fiber or even to upgrade DSL to faster speeds. Consolidated is currently embarking on improving DSL speeds for 500,000 customers.
These small communities know that lack of broadband is hurting their communities. People don’t want to buy houses in communities without good broadband, and communities without broadband foresee a bleak future as people settle instead in other communities around them.
Dublin and Chesterfield are joining a long list of towns that are willing to borrow the money needed to bring broadband. Every community in this situation looks around for the best operating model available to them – and in this case they chose the incumbent telco.
Legislators around the county need to take a look at the realities of municipal broadband. For every community that decides to become an ISP there are a lot more cities that instead partner with an existing ISP. The vast majority of cities have no interest in becoming a commercial ISP, but still can be hindered from finding partnerships by existing laws that prohibit municipal participation in broadband.
It’s time for legislators to ignore the lobbyists of the giant telcos and cable companies and do what’s right for their constituents and communities. These two New Hampshire towns will be better places to live when they get fiber – the residents and businesses will be able to fully partake in our modern online society and not be left behind. The New Hampshire legislature did the right thing last year and a whole lot of other states need to take heed.