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Grafton County forms broadband committee

August 06, 2020
HAVERHILL — Ongoing efforts to bring high-speed internet to the North Country recently led the Grafton County Commissioners to form a broadband committee. The group's goal is to bring large-scale broadband access to the North Country and their first meeting is set for mid-August.

According to Grafton County Administrator Julie Libby, conversations about the North Country's internet deficits began before the pandemic hit in March.

She said, "It made sense for the County to coordinate everything on a higher level instead of each town trying to do it separately. I think COVID has certainly enhanced everyone's awareness of the need for broadband, especially with the need for schooling and all the new ways we try to do things. I think now is a great time for us to move on this project."

At first, the Grafton County Commissioners communicated with representatives from both Carroll and Cos counties. Libby said it would have been too big of a project and it made more sense for each county to work directly with their municipalities and community leaders.

Attorney Shawn Tanguay from Drummond Woodsum approached the Grafton County Commissioners at their June 2 meeting. He first became involved with the broadband issue through his work with the Town of Bristol.

Several smaller towns have attempted to tackle high-speed access and some have received funding, said Tanguay. However, town officials have been told they do not have enough population density to justify the cost of such an installation.

"One of the things we noticed on the Bristol project was that the broadband companies often told us that while they have done a few towns in New Hampshire, they would like to see a much larger installation because it creates a larger economic scale. With a significant project, they reach a larger population with more potential customers to cover construction costs," explained the attorney.

Tanguay continued, "When we saw the difficulty of launching at a town level, we looked at the possibility of expanding the project's scope. Under New Hampshire law, the counties can bond for these types of projects."

The Grafton County Commissioners chose five town officials to form the committee, including Littleton Town Manager Andrew Dorsett. Other members include Bristol Town Administrator Nicholas Coates, Haverhill Town Manager Brigitte Codling, Campton Town Administrator Carina Park and Canaan Town Administrator Michael Samson.

According to Tanguay, there will be several obstacles in the process including federal standards and legislative issues at the state level.

He explained, "The FCC is the authority that determines if the vast majority of the North Country communities are sufficiently covered. According to them, Cos County has 80 percent coverage which can't be true. One of the things that we have to work on is trying to get out of the tether of the federal standard, at least at the state level."

"We are absolutely open to other communities being involved in the process. We have five committee members but we certainly expect to need other resources within the county," stated the lawyer.

Tanguay said the initiative has bipartisan support from both Democrats and Republicans at the state level.

"It's a public safety issue as well as an economic issue, and I think it addresses all the needs of both parties. There is a lot of support and we will need everyone to make this project a success," he noted.

Varney Smith
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