NEW HAMPSHIRE – In case you missed it, U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan held a virtual roundtable yesterday on the importance of federal funding to help expand broadband in New Hampshire.
As part of the bipartisan CARES Act that Congress passed in March, New Hampshire received $1.25 billion to support the state's response to COVID-19, some of which has been used to fund broadband infrastructure projects. Unfortunately, the deadline for New Hampshire communities to use that funding is December 15, 2020. Senator Hassan is working on bipartisan efforts to extend the federal deadline to help more communities build out their broadband services since these projects can take many months.
See below for coverage highlights:
By Robert Blechl
If there’s one thing the coronavirus pandemic made clear, it’s that the North Country has serious gaps in high-speed Internet and is in need of better broadband infrastructure for the growing number of people working from home and the children learning from home.
[…] The challenge, especially for northern New Hampshire, which doesn’t have many broadband projects that are shovel ready and where many efforts are in the beginning stages, is that the money under the current deadline has to be expended by Dec. 15.
Now, though, with bipartisan legislation in the United States Congress, that deadline could be extended one whole year, through 2021, U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH, said during a virtual meeting on Thursday involving town officials and Internet providers across the state.
“That would be tremendous for a lot of our towns,” Linda Lauer, of Bath, chair of the Grafton County Commission, said after the meeting.
Grafton County recently established a county broadband committee to explore options and long-term solutions for improving service and filling gaps.
Many Grafton County towns have made steps in the right direction, but just can’t complete projects before the current 2020 deadline, said Lauer.
“This opens up opportunities for some towns,” she said of an extension.
[…] Hassan’s virtual roundtable on the importance of federal funding for broadband expansion in the Granite State included Nicholas Coates, town administrator for Bristol; Rob Koester, senior vice-president of consumer product management with Consolidated Communications; Carole Monroe, CEO of ValleyNet; and Chris Rand, vice-president and chief strategy officer with Granite State Communications.
“The common theme most of us are hearing around the country is the deadline is a big impediment,” said Hassan.
Hassan is working with U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-IA, to expand the current year-end deadline for states to use the CARES Act money.
The money, she said, is vital to build out broadband services to improve remote learning opportunities as well as tele-work and tele-health.
“One of the things we’ve talked about in the past is the importance of broadband and the gaps in access that we have in New Hampshire, but it has never been as clear as it is now,” said Hassan. “Broadband is not just a luxury, it is a necessity.”
There are stories of children having to go to a school parking for Internet service in order to complete school work, she said.
A deadline extension would be fantastic because some areas being reached for broadband now are the most difficult, said Rand.
The places with no access at all are generally very rural and very high cost, said Koester.
Affordability is also an issue for low-income families and it will need to be addressed, said Rand.
And efforts need to ensure that projects are building for the long haul, said Monroe.
“Certainly, the workforce is moving to New Hampshire,” she said. “People are looking where to buy houses based on connectivity.”
The proposed Dec. 31, 2021 deadline that would extend the current deadline by a little more than a year will probably go to a Senate vote after the Nov. 3 election.
“I am hopeful that if it doesn’t happen before Nov. 3, which given this Supreme Court nomination and the way the Senate works is unlikely, it might be folded into a large package right after the election,” said Hassan. “That’s going to depend a little bit on the Senate majority leader’s [Mitch McConnell, R-KY] decisions in the Senate, but I will tell you that as you see it’s a Grassley-Hassan bill, so it’s a bi-partisan bill … When I talk with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, this is a pressing need in just about everybody’s state, so I think there’s a good opportunity here to get the extension. “