$50 million headed to NH to bring high-speed internet to rural communities

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Jun. 7—Federal and state officials say $50 million is headed to New Hampshire to be used to bring high-speed internet to rural communities in the Granite State.

The funding comes through the Capital Projects Fund, and is estimated to serve 15,000 homes and businesses — representing approximately 50% of locations in New Hampshire still lacking high-speed internet.

New Hampshire is the first of four states the Treasury Department approved for funding.

"In 2020, New Hampshire took the bold step of allocating short term CARES Act Funds to broadband expansion — dedicating $13 million to 16 projects that benefitted over 4,500 households, well before the federal government even created a program to do so themselves," said Gov. Chris Sununu in a statement. "Today's announcement is another step forward as NH continues to serve as a leader in expanding broadband services."

In New Hampshire, the state's new Broadband Contract Program is designed to select and support a local internet service provider (ISP) to provide internet service to the most rural parts of the state lacking internet service. The program will prioritize applicants that encourage the maximum number of locations to be served at the lowest cost, and broadband networks that will be owned, operated by or affiliated with local governments, non-profits, and co-operatives.

The request for proposal will be released Friday, June 10.

"I am incredibly proud of the work our team has done to establish New Hampshire as a national leader in this historic broadband expansion effort," said Taylor Caswell, commissioner of the Department of Business and Economic Affairs. "We know how critical access to reliable high-speed broadband is not only to our New Hampshire small businesses today, but to support the jobs of tomorrow. That is one of the reasons why it is front and center as part of the state's Economic Recovery and Expansion Strategy and why we will continue to drive this effort in the future."

All service providers will participate in the Federal Communications Commission's new Affordable Connectivity Program, which helps ensure households can afford the broadband they need for work, school, health care, and more by providing a discount of up to $30 per month.

"Access to high-speed internet is a necessity," said U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan in a statement. "From running a business or managing finances to attending telemedicine appointments, people rely on internet connectivity every day. Unfortunately, many rural areas in New Hampshire still don't have reliable internet connections. That is why I worked to set up and secure this funding in the American Rescue Plan, so that every person has the opportunity to succeed and so that our state's economy can thrive."

The funding is from the Capital Projects Fund, which Sens. Hassan, Mark Warner (D-Va.), Angus King (I-Maine), and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) helped create as part of the American Rescue Plan.

In total, New Hampshire is set to receive over $222 million through the Capital Projects Fund and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

"Broadband is essential for our everyday lives — from students learning in schools and parents teleworking to small businesses managing operations. Alarming disparities persist in access to reliable broadband, which is why serious investments in expanding digital connectivity are needed. I'm thrilled to see this funding from the American Rescue Plan reach the Granite State to expand essential broadband infrastructure," said U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in a statement.

Paul Feely is the City Hall reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at pfeely@unionleader.com