Divided opinions on Internet access plans

Last modified: 7/23/2015 9:24:02 AM
PETERBOROUGH — In Kansas City, you can download a high-def copy of “The Avengers” in seven seconds. In Atlanta, you’ll soon be able to download it in about half that time. Here in town, you’d have to wait over 11 minutes before you can click play.

Gigabit-per-second Internet service isn’t just for downloading the latest action movie. Businesses save money on computer equipment by storing data in the cloud, employees work from home through a virtual private networks, doctors monitor patients remotely, and high school students explore the world online.

The Economic Development Authority, a nine-member appointed board that meets monthly and last met on Tuesday, has made it their mission to deliver gigabit Internet service to all of Peterborough, business and resident alike. Committee members and town employees are split, however, on the best course of action. Some believe the town should negotiate a long-term agreement with an Internet Service Provider that ensures everyone — from a manufacturer along Jaffrey Road to a home on a Class VI road — receive high-speed access. Others believe businesses with access to a fiber-optic network should negotiate with ISPs themselves.

Economic Development Authority

Profit, it seems, is part of the dilemma.

ISPs like Comcast and FairPoint Communications look to profit from installing high-speed Internet like fiber-optic cable, which delivers significantly faster Internet access than DSL or cable, said Peter Throop, director of the Office of Community Development. If a business was the first to contract with an ISP provider, Throop said the provider may not see the incentive to connect single homes and rural area.

“There are only so many pieces of low-hanging fruit,” said Throop, referring to larger businesses. “If that low-hanging fruit jumps on a bandwagon, it undermines, in my opinion, our ability to deliver. If our goal is to get broadband to every premise, to finance that, we need to do that as a town.”

The town and committee met with representative from FairPoint on July 13, Comcast on July 15 and plan to meet with WiValley of Keene and 186 Communications of Nashua next month. The purpose of these meetings is to find out how to best finance and deliver broadband Internet to all of Peterborough.

A grant through the NH Charitable Foundation is funding a needs survey of businesses and residents.

Some, however, suggested a more direct approach. “As a private business person, I would encourage those with infrastructure already in place to go out and do their own due diligence,” said developer Chub Whitten, who owns the Brookstone Business Center at 9 Vose Farm Road.

Whitten, who meets regularly with companies interested in moving to the area, says one of the first questions they ask is “What is your connectivity?”

The Internet service delivering the fastest reported download speeds in Peterborough in September was through cable television infrastructure, according to the N.H. Broadband Mapping and Planning Program. However, cable internet has download speeds about 100 times slower than gigabit downloads offered in metropolitan areas.

Fiber-optic cable, however, is capable of delivering gigabit or more Internet speeds.

The major roads in town, including Routes 202 and 101, have fiber-optic cable, but much of the network isn’t connected to individual homes or businesses. Comcast representatives told the board that a major cost of the project is installing a router that would deliver Internet from the fiber-optic network to customers.

Jeanne Dietsch of Peterborough, a technology entrepreneur, agrees with Throop, saying it’s just as important to connect homes to high-speed Internet as it is businesses.

“We want to present ourselves to companies as the model of the rural future,” she said, saying more and more corporate executives are working from home.

Some businesses have shelled out for faster Internet, including Sequoya Technologies.

The information technology firm off Route 202 paid to have FairPoint connect its building to the fiber-optic network on Jaffrey’s Route 202 . Founder Tom Strickland said he was willing to pay Comcast $2,000 to connect his building to the fiber-optic network, but FairPoint offered to connect him sooner.

“It’s that important,” said Strickland, who is on the board of N.H. FastRoads, a public-private partnership that installed fiber connections from Rindge to Enfield in 2013. “A lot of people are not being served.”

Strickland believes Internet is an infrastructure necessity, just as roads or water systems are. But towns in New Hampshire are unable to bond for Internet projects.

RSA 33:3 does not allow municipalities to bond for Internet projects if a municipality is already served by an Internet provider. The Catch-22 is RSA 53-C mandates that municipalities must have a franchise agreement with a cable provider, which often is also an Internet provider. Rep. Peter Leishman (D-Peterborough) has said he is drafting legislation that would lift the agreement requirement.

While the EDA looks at ways of bringing high-speed Internet to all of Peterborough, the town is installing fiber-optic cables between the Town House and Fire and Police stations, explained GIS/IT Director Fash Farashahi. The project will cost about the town about $30,000, and the remainder will be paid for through an Emergency Management Performance Grant. Comcast currently serves municipal buildings, although Farashahi said the inconsistent upload speed makes it difficult to back up data on their network. If the town signed a contract with an ISP to lay the fiber-optic network, it would have to pay the ISP $700 a month for a five-year lease or $1,000 a month for a two-year lease, said Farashahi. The return on investment for the town do it itself was two years.

Microspec Corp. on Jaffrey Road chose not to pay to connect to the fiber-optic network, said IT Systems Engineer Thaddeus Rogers. They instead rely on Comcast’s business level Internet access, which allows uploads of 15 megabits a second. Rogers said that if Microspec continues to expand, the slower Internet speed could affect its ability to back up its information.

“15 megabits is really fast if you’re uploading a video to YouTube,” said Rogers. “If you’re trying to upload 300 gigabits to the cloud, it’s not as fast.”

Benji Rosen can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228, or brosen@ledgertranscript.com. Follow him on Twitter @Benji_Rosen.


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