We caught up with Carole Monroe from New Hampshire FastRoads to get an update on what is happening in the legislature this sesssion. We reported last spring on HB 286, intended to allow local communities more decision making power. The bill did not advance last session, but new language may breath new hope into the proposal.
If the bill passes, it will remove restrictions that prevent local governments from bonding to finance broadband infrastructure. This and similar bills have been introduced in the past, but large incumbent providers always seem to stop them.
Monroe tells us that this session the bill clarifies the definition of "open access network." The bill also changes language regarding "unserved and underserved" areas. Now the bill requires municipalities to include areas without "adequate" broadband if they choose to finance through bonds. "Adequate" in the bill language relies on the FCC definition of broadband as it changes over time, currently 4 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload. The change does not restrict building in all areas as long as some areas without "adequate" coverage are included.
The new language also clarifies that municipal networks built only for government purposes do not have to be part of the open access model. Past versions of the bill questioned application of the open access model to municipal I-Nets.
While some of the language of the bill has changed, the fundamental goals remain the same. Local communities need to make the decision to bond. In order to do so, state barriers must be removed. Current state law only allows bonding for broadband infrastructure under strict criteria which only apply in a fraction of the state.
Monroe reiterates that the bill intention is also to create a more competitive environment. She noted that the area is already benefitting from a competitive spirit. Broadband pricing proposals to community anchor institutions show significantly lower rates per Mbps. Service level agreements are more favorable to community anchor institutions since the creation of FastRoads.
Representative Charles Townsend told us via email that the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee met in an executive session on November 12. The committee voted to send the amended HB 286 to the House in January with an "Ought to Pass" recommendation. The vote was 13 to 5 in favor.