An amendment would expand scope on broadband matching fund bill

  • Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 5/5/2021 4:18:35 PM

NH Senate Bill 85 would establish a matching grant program for municipal broadband internet projects, and Greenfield’s broadband volunteers are rallying support for an amendment that would extend eligibility to more towns, including theirs.

Although typical municipal broadband bond agreements incur no direct costs to taxpayers, matching funds can still reduce internet subscriber costs and town liabilities, Greenfield Broadband volunteer Tom Bascom said. As written, the bill allows towns entering bond agreements with an internet provider to use matching funds to reduce the total bond amount, which in turn lowers the user fees that subscribers pay, Bascom said. The funds can also potentially be used to cover aspects of the broadband rollout that aren’t town-financed, he said, such as the fiber connection from the pole to the home. Furthermore, “A bond is a debt, it’s a loan. Obviously, having a lower loan amount is a good thing,” he said.

One problem is that, as written, it’s unclear whether towns like Greenfield, which approved a plan to bond for broadband this past weekend, will be eligible under the bill. “You would think that the legislature would want to find ways to incentivize getting these projects completed rapidly rather than erecting barriers to getting started,” Bascom said.

An amendment proposed by State Senators Bradley and Kahn would ensure eligibility to towns that start a broadband project this year, Bascom said. The amendment would apply to any town that hadn’t started construction on a broadband project as of January 2021, State Sen. Jay Kahn confirmed on Tuesday.

That extended eligibility could affect projects in Jaffrey, which also approved a broadband bond this year, and Temple, which is scheduled to vote on one in June. “We’ll have to watch this,” Jaffrey Town Manager Jon Frederick said. Temple Broadband Subcommittee Chair Jessica Hipp said she’d been keeping up with it and had spoken to State Senator Denise Ricciardi about Temple’s eligibility under the current language of the bill.

Bascom is encouraging interested parties to write to their representatives in the state House and Senate to support the bill’s passage, as well as its amendment.

The Senate must act on the bill by the beginning of June, Kahn said, and it’s scheduled to go into effect on July 1 if it passes. Grant guidelines are yet to be written, he said. “The rules and the funding could come together within the year,” he said.

The bill is scheduled for a hearing with the House Finance Committee on Tuesday, May 10 at 10:50 a.m. Zoom links to the webinar are available on the Greenfield Broadband website

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