Rindge moves forward with a plan to bond for broadband internet

  • The Rindge Telecommunications Committee held a public hearing on Monday to take feedback on a plan to request proposals from internet providers to partner with the town to run fiber to homes unserved by broadband. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • Rindge Select Board member and Telecommunications Committee member Karl Pruter points out areas on a map of Rindge that are unserved by broadband, currently.  Staff photo by Ashley Saari

  • The Rindge Telecommunications Committee held a public hearing on Monday to take feedback on a plan to request proposals from internet providers to partner with the town to run fiber to homes unserved by broadband. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 10/23/2019 6:46:38 PM

For more than a decade, the Rindge Telecommunications Committee has been working towards reliable, high-speed internet for everyone in town. That goal may be on the horizon, with the town moving forward with a bonding process to provide fiber internet to more than 90 percent of residents.

“We’re going through a transition now like we went through transitions in the past for things like telephone and electric lights,” Telecommunications Committee Chair Phil Motta said. 

That’s just how integral the internet has become for people, he said. 

Motta said he understands that well, himself. His own internet has upload speeds that leave him struggling to work from home, he said, sharing a story of having to keep a client on the phone for 20 extra minutes while he attempted to upload a file to transfer. 

“It’s something that impacts everyone,” he said.

Last year, the legislature passed SB 170, a bill that allows towns to take out bonds to build internet infrastructure for broadband. The bill allows the funds to be used to build infrastructure to serve areas which aren’t served to the level the Federal Communications Commission defines as “broadband” – meaning residents have the option of up to 25 Megabits-per-second for downloading and 3 Megabits-per-second for uploads.

For Rindge, that’s nearly 93 percent of the town’s residents.

During a public hearing Monday, the Rindge Telecommunications Committee told residents they have already moved forward with the first step – gathering data on offered internet speeds – and are ready to reach out for bids on a fiber buildout. Residents could see a warrant article for a bond to complete the project as soon as March, or at the latest, 2021.

According to the Telecommunications Committee, there are 2,731 unique addresses in Rindge. Only 212 have access to service the FCC considers broadband speeds. Of the rest, 1,263 addresses have speeds at or slower than 20 Megabits-per-second for download, and 897 addresses have access to speeds at or slower than 10 Megabits-per-second for download.

“Those are some significant percentages,” Motta said. 

Homes with fiber connections could have access to uploads and downloads as fast as 1 Gigabit per second, depending on the package purchased by the user.

 

The benefits and drawbacks of bonding

The town will not know the potential cost of a fiber option until it receives proposals from internet providers, which should be within 30 days of sending out requests for proposals. However, they’ve looked to the nearby town of Chesterfield, which passed a $1.8 million bond earlier this year, for an example.

Chesterfield has partnered with Consolidated Communications, which will underwrite the bond, and pay it back through a capped $10 service fee on any residents that subscribe to the new fiber service. Consolidated Communications is also contributing about $2.5 million of its own funds to the project.

Telecommunications member Tim Wessels said the town would be interested in a similar proposal, if it's offered.

The town would own the infrastructure, but repairs would be conducted by whatever internet service provider took up their use to deliver service. 

Wessels said the town would specify in their request for proposals that the proposal should cover bringing fiber to all town properties, including private roads. 

In Chesterfield’s case, the hookups to individual homes would be free if the home was located within 150 feet from a connection box, or cost 55 cents per foot after that. 

Some residents expressed disappointment in that, noting that some homes in Rindge are set far back from the roadway, particularly in the rural districts. One Thomas Road resident said her driveway is nearly 1,500 feet from the roadway, which would mean a $825 hook-up fee.

Motta said one of the potential drawbacks to the system is that the broadband service would be provided by whichever internet provider the town bonded with, which could limit options. 

Wessels stressed that there is a time factor. While SB 170 is still a fairly new law, many towns on the western side of the state are looking seriously at the options it provides. Along with Chesterfield, the town of Dublin has already selected a proposal from Consolidated Communications to build broadband infrastructure in town, a proposal that’s expected to be on the warrant in March. There are several other towns that have taken the first step of mapping their coverage, and more than a dozen towns talking about the prospect of bonding.

Wessels said its likely internet providers will not have unlimited capital or time to contribute to all the towns interested in installing broadband.

“The longer we dilly-dally, the less likely it will be they’ll have the funds available to contribute,” Wessels said.

The board also noted that the town residents will have to agree to the bond during a ballot vote at Town Meeting in March – and that the vote, as all bond articles, will have to pass by a three-fifths majority. 

 

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.


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