Clarification on HB 238

By Mario Ratzki

Representative Natalie Wells seemed to be confused when she answered my letter to the editor. While I wrote about HB238, and HB238 only, Ms. Wells went off on HB191.

HB 238 seeks to establish a committee to study broadband. The reason Fairpoint, and other broadband providers, are so against even a simple study committee is because they do not want the state to look closely at how they spend taxpayer’s dollars. Yes, I do agree with Representative Wells that we do not want to waste taxpayer’s dollars. But she may not be aware that Fairpoint was given approximately $25 million, Fairpoint is unable or unwilling to give us an exact number, by the FCC for rural broadband development in unserved or underserved New Hampshire areas. She also may not be aware that this money is in fact taxpayer’s money we send to the FCC in the form of a Federal Universal Service Charge we all pay on our phone and internet bills. It is our money, sent to the FCC as a $1 and returned to us, in typical Washington fashion, as between 30 and 40 cents. The balance, 60 to 70 cents, goes to subsidize red southern states.

But I would still be happy with the 40 or 30 cents if the money was sent back directly to the state of New Hampshire. But to add insult to injury, this money goes directly to Fairpoint with the State having no say, no oversight on how that money is spent to connect unserved and underserved areas in New Hampshire.

HB238 would allow the legislature to ask questions and get answers as to how the state and the industry can accelerate the pace of broadband infrastructure in our rural areas, in total transparency. I include the text of the bill below with the relevant paragraphs:

Three Duties. Recognizing the importance of Internet access to all citizens and the need to promote access in unserved and underserved areas, the committee shall:

  1. Explore the changes needed to establish a governmental structure to facilitate and coordinate broadband technology as recommended in the final report of the New Hampshire broadband mapping and planning program.
  2. Explore opportunities for public/private partnerships to facilitate broadband availability in underserved areas.

III. Facilitate the adoption of wireless technologies to expand the reach of broadband access into rural areas.

So is it a waste of time to find out how $25 million of taxpayers money is being spent by Fairpoint? I don't think so.