Jaffrey selects Consolidated Communications for proposed fiber project

  • Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 2/24/2021 4:36:13 PM

Like neighbors Dublin and Rindge, Jaffrey has selected Consolidated Communications to provide town-wide broadband internet service to every address in town, if voters approve a ten-year $1.2 million bond for the project.

During its regular board meeting Tuesday, the Jaffrey Select Board considered proposals from both Consolidated Communications and Comcast to provide fiber internet to underserved residents. The federal definition of broadband internet is 3 Mbps for download speed, and 25 Mbps for upload speed – both must be true to qualify as high speed internet. Towns are allowed by law to enter into bonds to build infrastructure to provide broadband speeds.

Jaffrey residents are expected to vote on the issue at Town Meeting, scheduled this year for April 24. It requires three-fifths approval to pass.

If passed, the town would enter a 10-year bond for $1,229,020 to build fiber infrastructure across the entire town, according to Jo Anne Carr, the town’s economic development director.

Under Comcast’s proposal, the town would have contributed a total of $1,976,000 through a bond, with Comcast providing about $264,000.

Carr said she’s confident the townspeople will support broadening access to high-speed internet, an issue which has become only increasingly important to residents who have been dealing with working and schooling from home at unprecedented levels in the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think that, in general, we have support for improved broadband access in our neighborhoods,” Carr said.

However, unlike most bonds, the funds wouldn’t be paid back by every taxpayer – only those who sign up for the new fiber service.

Similar to its agreement in Rindge and Dublin, Consolidated Communications has agreed to underwrite the bond for the infrastructure. Consolidated Communications will use a set user fee – in this case, about $11 per month – to pay back the bond. If there are not enough users who sign up for the improved service, the gap is paid by Consolidated Communications.

Carr said the town discussed a 20-year bond, in exchange for a lower monthly user fee, but ultimately decided that because of the fast-changing nature of technology, that a 10-year bond was most appropriate.

Including the user fee, costs to purchase fiber packages are expected to be $43 for a 50 Mbps package, $68 for a 250 Mbps package, and $78 for a 1 Gbps package.

If approved, work would be completed within 12 to 24 months.

While the current law only allows towns to bond for internet infrastructure where it does not have broadband access, Consolidated Communications has agreed to build fiber to every address in town, to offer an alternative or improved service, even to those addresses that might have broadband service currently. Consolidated Communications fiber service offers upload and download speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second, which may be significantly faster than some of the service that already qualifies as broadband.

Consolidated Communications is assuming about $2 million of the cost to build that fiber infrastructure in areas already covered by broadband.

Jaffrey has scheduled a bond hearing and informational session for the project on March 22. Representatives from Consolidated Communications are expected to be present to answer questions from the community. Voters are scheduled to vote on the issue at Town Meeting on April 24.


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