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Board brainstorms with state's broadband expert

Ossipee could pursue Internet options with CyberPine, Tamworth Foundation project

July 29, 2010
OSSIPEE — The state's new director of broadband technology met with the town's board of selectmen on Monday to discuss a variety of ways to improve access to high tech communications such as broadband, high speed Internet and WiFi.

The board scheduled the meeting because parts of town, such as Water Village Road (Route 171) are not wired with broadband cable from Time Warner Cable, and have inadequate (or no) cell phone coverage. Water Village Road residents have asked TWC about extending broadband another 4.3 miles, but company officials have said the stretch does not meet the density requirements.

At town hall on Monday, select board chair Harry Merrow, members Kathleen Maloney and Morton Leavitt met with Carol Miller, the director of broadband technology under the state Division of Economic Development to brainstorm solutions and options. State Rep. Mark McConkey (R-Freedom), also attended the session.

"There are no silver bullets here," said Miller. "If there were, we'd wave our wand and be done with it."

Last Thursday, Time Warner Cable Communications & Public Affairs Specialist Andrew Russell commented on the The Independent's July 15 story on the cable issue and residents' complaints.

He confirmed that in Ossipee, the franchise agreement calls for a minimum of 15 homes per linear mile before cable is extended. Russell said the potential customer of 13.95 homes per mile is below that agreement and not economically feasible.

"Economically, this one doesn't make much sense for us," he said, adding the once you factor in cost of expansion, programming, state an local taxes, franchise fees and pole fees, it could cost $100,000 to run cable for the 4.3 mile stretch.

"From a company's perspective, we can only (expand) if it makes economic sense," added Russell. Russell said franchise agreements differ from town to town. He said some towns set aside the franchise fees to fund cable expansion. He said gaps in service areas are common in rural New England. "This is a common issue, especially in New England where there is a lot of rural areas," he added.

However, at Monday's meeting Miller stressed that there are options out there, and plans under way to identify parts of the state that are underserved by high technology.

Options include talking with an independent nonprofit provider, CyberPine Cooperative Inc, based in Sandwich and headed up by Gunnar Berg. Another idea is to contact the Tamworth Foundation, a nonprofit that recently granted $100,000 to improve Internet access in that area.

"There's no easy way to get there… we have to keep plugging away. You're best bet is to talk to CyberPine and others and see if there is some interim system they can set up to take care of that Route 171 and Granite Road area," Miller said. She has heard that the company is installing "wireless access points" in several areas – such as atop Mt. Whittier – near Ossipee. Internet is expanded via these wireless access points installed by a direct line of sight from one another, such as atop steeples, existing telephone poles or cell towers.

Board member Leavitt asked if the town could ask Time Warner to include a broadband expansion plan when it renews its franchise contract. Certainly, but Miller noted that cable extension is an expensive proposition and could cost the company anywhere from $20,000 to $35,000 per linear mile depending upon the condition of existing pole and related fees.

The town could also consider renegotiating the amount of franchise fees it receives from the company, or setting aside some of those fees to pay for extended cable. However, Maloney noted that the franchise fees received by the town – about $18,000 per year – is deposited into the town's general fund. Board members concurred that getting voters and taxpayers to agree to spend money on a project that would only benefit part of the town likely would fail.

"I think the town has to look out for itself, especially during contract renewal," said Miller. The town's contract with Time Warner Cable is up for renewal in 2017; the company acquired the contract and lines when Adelphia went out of business.

Miller said Ossipee isn't the only town dealing with a need for high-speed Internet, television or cell phone service.

"Even in my town (Gorham), we have no cable where we are and no phone line. We do have Internet through those wireless access points," said Miller.

From the audience of two, State Rep. McConkey congratulated the board for delving into the issue of broadband access. As a state representative and member of the Environment and Economic Development committee of the Carroll County Collaborative, he hears often from constituents who complain about cable access.

"I hear complaints from constituents in all our member towns, people unable to rent apartments off the wired grid because (the landlord) can't offer this basic service," he said.

He said the collaborative has "identified the expansion of broadband throughout our county as being what could viably spring us forward with more business."

Good intentioned citizens and select board members are being "bulldozed" over by contract renewals, he said. Thus, the goal of his group is to put together a "toolkit" for the towns on how to get better broadband to the towns.

"The things you've outlined are phenomenal. Those are things we need to get into this toolbox. We need to tell towns to check your contract right now. So many of your suggestions are really key," he said to Miller.

On a final note, Miller urged the town to make sure it participates in the state's mapping project, which will identify what parts of the state do not have Internet access.

Littleton Chmber
Martin Lord & Osman
Varney Smith
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