NHEC Hopes to Develop Broadband Services for Members

Uniquely positioned to serve the underserved

By Charlie Darling

The following was condensed and edited from NHEC.com/Broadband by the Beacon staff.

Access to affordable, reliable, high speed internet is critical for the vitality of New Hampshire Electric Cooperative’s (NHEC) members and their communities. However, due to the rural nature of the Co-op’s service territory, which stretches from Derry to Pittsburg and includes Andover, many NHEC members do not have access to these services.

Just as it brought electricity to rural New Hampshire over 80 years ago, NHEC is uniquely positioned to help bring broadband to these same areas today. The cooperative model allows them to provide services when others will not, because they are not limited by the requirement to generate profits for investors. This makes NHEC well suited to bring broadband to unserved areas of rural New Hampshire, including some households in Andover.

As NHEC has explored the issue, it has become apparent that the Co-op’s bylaws do not provide the flexibility required to quickly and efficiently take advantage of emerging opportunities, including government funding options. Therefore, a member vote is underway to update NHEC’s bylaws to provide that flexibility. A virtual meeting of NHEC members will be held on October 20 at 10 AM to receive the results.

Meanwhile, NHEC’s Board of Directors is evaluating different approaches to provide broadband to all members. The Board will carefully analyze all options, including local, state, and federal grant opportunities, to minimize the potential costs and maximize the benefits to members and the Co-op.

For its two pilot projects, NHEC has applied for funding through the CARES Act – Coronavirus Relief Fund to expand high speed internet access to its members in Colebrook and Lempster. The proposal is for an all-fiber optic network that could offer speeds up to 1 Gigabit symmetrical upload and download. NHEC’s goal is to build a network capable of meeting their members’ needs into the future.

Members who take broadband service will pay for it. Over time, offering broadband has the potential to reduce the cost of electricity service by creating new sources of non-electric revenues and potential cost savings. And having high speed internet available throughout NHEC’s service territory has the potential to help them respond to outages more quickly and provide additional electricity services, like demand response programs, more widely.

It could take several years before NHEC achieves their goal of making broadband service available to all of their members.