High-speed Internet project at a standstill due to town vote
Officials can’t use Southwest Region Planning Commission
Bringing broadband Internet to more households in Rindge has hit a snag due to lack of funding.
Last year, the Fast Roads project brought high-speed Internet to some areas of the town including the Police Department, Rindge Memorial School and the Ingalls Memmorial Library. But expanding this service to more residents in the near future might not be possible, officials said Monday.
Interim Town Administrator Jane Pitt said there is one major line that comes into town to provide Internet, and homeowners who aren’t on that line have trouble getting the connection. Pitt also said when high-speed Internet was implemented some residents were left without faster connections.
The stream line that allowed Fast Roads to provide Internet to several business and residences in Rindge was built thanks to grant money and a fund-rasing initiative, but now town officials say they don’t have the tools to apply for a number of additional grants.
In order to apply for some grants, the town needs to present certain maps and data to the entity granting the funds. In the past, these were provided by the Southwest Region Planning Commission, a Keene-based regional planning agency. But in March, voters decided they didn’t want certain federal grants supporting local projects in Rindge, and decided to cut their relationship with the Southwest Region Planning Commission.
“[Southwest Region Planning Commission] has assisted us in obtaining all kind of grants, in particular the ones for infrastructure,” Select Board Chair Roberta Oeser said. “Now, to apply for some grants, we would need to be affiliated with the [Southwest Region Planning] commission, and we can’t do that.”
Oeser said that will make it difficult to apply for grants to support the new infrastructure that’s needed to expand high-speed Internet service.
Oeser said the infrastructure is too expensive for the town to support through taxes.
“The only real way to expand the [broadband] connection is through grants,” Oeser said.
In March, voters also decided they didn’t want Rindge officials to receive any Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants.
Oeser said that in the past, part of the funding for the Fast Roads project came from a different grants, including a HUD grant.
During the citizen’s forum at the Select Board meeting Wednesday, residents discussed how to fund the expansion of high-speed Internet in under-served parts of town, through Fast Roads.
Rindge resident Larry Cleveland also attended the meeting.
Cleveland said in an interview Tuesday that the Fast Road project in Rindge was completed before the town meeting in March, and that he believes there is no need to expand the service in Rindge. “This is rural town, that’s why some [high-speed Internet] companies are not interested in coming here. There are not enough houses per mile and it’s not good business for them. If you want broadband in every square foot, you might want to move to a city,” Cleveland said,
Cleveland is the chairman of Save Our Town, a resident committee established in opposition of zoning amendments related to the intersections of Routes 119 and 202 and creation of an Overlay District allowing more businesses and commerce in the area. He has advocated against the town working with the South Western Planning Commission or receiving HUD grants.
For Cleveland, cutting ties with the South Western Planning Commission does not keep the town from applying for several grants. “There are other ways of getting the information they need. [Southwest Planning Commission representatives] are not the only people in the world that can get information. If that would be so, it would be a monopoly,” Cleveland said.
He also added there isn’t any article preventing town officials from applying for any grants, but before accepting the money, they need to call for a town vote. “We live here, we want to have control over our town. Some people believe federal grants are free money. That is not true, it often comes with a lot of strings attached,” Cleveland said.
Oeser, however, said getting geographic data from Southwest Planning Commission is the most convenient approach.
“I don’t think that people realize that some of the information that we need as a municipality to apply for these grants comes from the SouthwestPlanning Commission,” Oeser said.