Hancock to test new broadband technology

  • Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 5/20/2020 6:56:30 PM

Consolidated Communications has selected Hancock as the test site for a new technology with the potential to affordably supply internet to areas of town with limited or no coverage. Representative Rob Koester said the company would be looking at a rollout in late summer or early fall at a recent Select Board meeting.

The technology, although experimental, might serve as a solution for the town’s underserved homes as the town’s Telecommunications Committee looks beyond municipal bonding. It could be useful to other towns with partial high speed internet coverage, such as Greenfield, Francestown, and Peterborough, Committee member Tim Theberge said.

Consolidated managed to reduce the cost to produce one of their internet-providing units to the extent that it would be cost effective to connect as few as 50 homes, Theberge said. Previously, it would have taken 5,000 connections to make it worthwhile, making it unsuitable for rural areas. The new technology has only been deployed in one other place so far, Theberge said, and believes the company wanted to field test it in Hancock because of the good rapport the committee developed with the company. “A lot of our efforts have resulted in other local towns reaching out to Consolidated,” Theberge said. “Obviously now with Stay At Home and distance learning, that last mile connection is a very hot topic,” he said. A spokesperson for Consolidated said the company had nothing to share at this point, since the technology was still under development.

The COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the project by making it harder to source materials and assemble the units, Theberge said, and it’s currently unadvisable to go door to door to install it. Koester said they anticipated resuming the project in late summer or early fall. At that point, residents in selected areas would be able to sign up for high speed internet service, Theberge said. The town would not be liable for any expenses of the project, and Consolidated would deploy a backup unit in case of failure, he said.

There are three areas of town under consideration for deploying the technology, Theberge said. One is near Nubanusit Lake near Kings Highway. Another is South Elmwood Road from Route 202 to Forest Road. The third is the Brimstone Corner Road, Longview Road, and Shady Lane area, he said.

Hancock closed their RFP for municipal bonded broadband internet last November. “It became clear that the bonding process wasn’t going to work for us,” Theberge said. 75 percent of homes in Hancock have access to high speed internet via Comcast, he said. The area that would financially subsidize the farther-flung connections throughout town in a municipal bond is already wired, he said, and companies like Consolidated Communications were unwilling to wire areas in town that were already covered by Comcast. “If people already had access to high speed, would they switch to fiber?” Theberge said. Bonds make more sense for towns like Dublin, Rindge, and Chesterfield, which didn’t have much high speed internet at all, he said.

“From the beginning… most of the vendors were really engaged with us in trying to provide some type of solution,” Theberge said, even though there were ultimately limitations in what was feasible for Hancock. Comcast offered to split the cost of providing internet to the remaining homes in town, even though they hadn’t been the primary bidder in the RFP, he said. The committee didn’t immediately act on the offer because it’d be an expensive proposition at $14,000 per mile for fiber installation, and it was not entirely apparent whether the town would be allowed to bond in that situation, he said.

The Hancock Telecommunications Committee is working to elect a new chair after former chair Dana Primiano stepped down recently.


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