Locals’ needs and willingness to organize features in broadband survey results

  • Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 9/7/2020 5:48:53 PM

A number of local towns have issued their own broadband surveys in the past year, and Maine consulting company Mission Broadband issued its own with the goal of providing the data to anyone who can use the information to improve broadband access. In June, they launched a survey for all New Hampshire residents to document their internet needs, constraints, and concerns. They are still collecting responses, Director of External Affairs Mike Reed said, and he hopes more people will sign on to complete it to give broadband advocates an even more robust body of information to work with.

Mission Broadband works with towns on any aspect of broadband internet acquisitions, initiating municipal bonding processes on behalf of town officials or circulating surveys. When the pandemic hit and amplified the need for home internet improvements, Reed said the company saw they could help by providing communities with data they could use to improve their chances of getting funds for broadband. “If this can help us get more financing in New Hampshire, great,” Reed said. “We’re trying to make our states a better place.”

Mission Broadband approached the New Hampshire Department of Business and Economic Affairs as well as representatives from Maine and Vermont with their offer to distribute and manage a broadband survey that focused on the access and need during the pandemic. Advocates in Vermont declined, having designed their own survey and not wanting their residents to experience survey fatigue, Reed said. Although residents in towns like Dublin, Rindge, Hancock, and Francestown have already completed surveys pertaining to their town’s broadband activities, Reed said it’s “absolutely” worthwhile for any resident to also take their survey, since the information could help legislators or other organizers promoting broadband on a larger scale: whole counties in the north of the state are looking into municipal bonding, Reed said, and rural broadband bills are going back and forth in Washington. The survey was initially distributed through organizations like the Southwest Region Planning Commission and the National Digital Equity Center. The data is not shared with anyone other than broadband advocates, he said.

The survey gleaned more than 3,000 responses as of the start of July, Reed said, and preliminary data is already opening eyes. Interesting trends emerged when comparing New Hampshire results with those from Maine: although five percent of responders in both states lacked any home internet at all, 54 percent of New Hampshire responders reported dissatisfaction with their internet, versus just 37 percent in Maine. New Hampshire residents rated their needs for telecommuting and telehealth higher than their Maine counterparts. “What worries me almost as much” as residents reporting no connection, Reed said, is that half of New Hampshire responders reported that available internet is unaffordable to them.

The Ledger-Transcript requested the 226 responses logged within the 16 towns in its coverage area, and found that every town was represented, from 51 and 40 responses in Peterborough and Temple respectively, to a single responder in Bennington. All but one surveyed resident listed their home internet connection as either important, or very important to them. Seven had no internet at their house. Most responders had cable or DSL internet, just seven reported a fiber connection at their home. More responders said their home internet affects their work than not (106 to 83), mostly because they can’t upload large files or video conference. During the pandemic, 122 responders said their internet didn’t meet their needs versus 72 who said it did. Most with unmet needs cited unreliable or slow connections.

“If any serious work needs to get done I go into the office to get better internet,” a Mason resident wrote.

“The only available internet is DSL – it is not adequate because I am a teacher and have [two] high school students. I drove to a nearby elementary school parking lot to Zoom with my students. We would pay more for adequate internet,” a Peterborough resident wrote.

A New Ipswich responder described their internet options as “overpriced and bundled with services we don’t need,” while a Greenfield resident bemoaned the price that came with what they saw as inadequate service: “I pay $150 per month for 3Mb service. Have looked at increasing my bandwidth and it shoots up well over $250/month. No one would possibly view that as remotely reasonable.”

“These providers should have obligations to serve and provide to the whole town, not 25% of it,” a Mason resident wrote.

Many residents apparently could benefit from more information about their town’s broadband efforts. Many didn’t know whether their community had a committee focused on economic development, technology, or broadband expansion, including residents in Dublin, Francestown, Greenfield, Temple, and Mason, which all have Broadband committees, Jaffrey and New Ipswich, which have formed broadband committees since the survey was launched, and Peterborough and Wilton, which have economic development committees.

Many also didn’t know whether their town had looked into the municipal bonding process, including a handful of responders from towns that are actively pursuing municipal bonding and the majority of Peterborough responses.

The good news is, there’s plenty of local enthusiasm: a whopping 115 responders said they would be interested in getting involved in their town’s pursuit of broadband, including two responders from Sharon, nine from Jaffrey, one apiece from Antrim, Lyndeborough, Greenville, and Wilton, and 24 from Peterborough. In New Ipswich, which just started up a municipal broadband committee, 11 responders wanted to help. Many provided their contact information in order to further their involvement.

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