October 09, 2013BETHLEHEM — The North Country Council released a draft broadband access report last week. The report is related to the New Hampshire Broadband Mapping and Planning Program. This effort began in 2010 to study ways to expand broadband access.
Senior state and Fairpoint officials attended the NCC event last. Carol Miller, Department of Resources and Economic Development's Director of Broadband Technologies, and Ellen Scarponi, government relations head at Fairpoint, were on hand. Fairpoint has worked to expand the reach of broadband throughout the North Country.
The report has been in the making for several years. Each of the state's nine regional planning commissions have received input from a committee that examined the issue of improving electronic data speeds, especially in rural areas.
Having a high-speed connection to the Internet is important for many businesses, residents, and municipalities. The report finds, "Broadband is the highway of the 21st Century." Nonetheless, expanding high speed Internet "is both cost and time consuming," the report states.
The report includes a North Country vision statement. This goal begins, "To make broadband available to all North Country residents through collaboration with public and private partners."
Educational, health, public safety, and business institutions have seen the necessity of expanding broadband services. As the report states, "it takes much more than the minimum broadband threshold to operate successful businesses, and provide relevant education and quality medical care."
A case study from Colebrook, included in the report, discusses how working together facilitated broadband access in town. Help included a $50,000 grant from the Tillotson Fund. The successful effort included expansion of service to Errol and Pittsburg.
Even with its rural nature, the North Country has broadband access that exceeds the national average. Of the remaining locations without access in the state, Miller said, "We're definitely closing in on those gaps."
Telehealth services are seen as a primary beneficiary of broadband access. Telehealth allows health care consultations between a patient and provider in two locations. The technology is especially important in rural areas.
As the report states, "Broadband Internet is necessary to continue supporting current and emerging telehealth applications for patients, providers, hospitals, and health care businesses."
The report used a survey to learn about state perspectives on broadband access. The report finds that the North Country has less home Internet access than the rest of the state. This may be the reason why 48 percent of North Country residents favor use of municipal funds to expand broadband service. This compares to 42 percent in the state as a whole.
Increased high speed Internet, the report notes, improves the business climate and overall quality of life. Additionally, the report suggests, "areas of lower population density show a strong relationship between broadband expansion and economic growth."
The report includes several recommendations. These range from adding broadband policy to town master plans to use of hub locations like libraries to provide high-speed access for residents in remote areas.
Because of large infrastructure costs, the report accepts that certain home sites may not have high speed Internet well into the future. Nonetheless, the report recommends access for all North Country residents, with unlimited data volumes.
The expansion of mobile phone usage is also noted in the report. Ensuring expansion of phone services "is as much a priority as broadband," the report suggests.
NCC has made the draft available online. Go to: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0BxYcWmWiu4GtREh4SFdWZzBGSFk/edit?usp=sh&pli=1
Comments can be submitted to the NCC at 107 Glessner Road, Bethlehem, NH, 03574. Hardcopies of the report can be requested at 444-6303.