Vote to make NH Electric Cooperative provide broadband falls 2% short

  • NHEC

Monitor staff
Published: 6/18/2020 11:55:49 AM

An effort to add broadband internet access to the official role of New Hampshire Electric Coop fell about two percentage points short in an election among members, but backers are still hopeful.

“Because it came so close and because of strong advocates elected to the board (of directors) and the ongoing committee, I think it’s likely to change the inclination of the co-op to do something in partnership with some broadband developer,” said Richard Knox, an electric customer.

NHEC, headquartered in Plymouth, has about 84,000 customers in 115 communities throughout the state, including parts of Canterbury, Loudon, and points north. Most of the service area is rural.

Knox was among those who created a petition that added a proposal to change the cooperative’s articles of incorporation to add “facilitating access to broadband internet for members” as a core purpose. The proposal was on the ballot of the annual election for the board of directors, was the first such effort in the cooperatives’ 81-year history.

Of the 7,138 ballots cast on the question, 64.4% or 4,599 voted “yes.” Changes the articles of incorporation requires a two-thirds majority, meaning it fell short by 183 votes.

“Turnout was about 23% higher than usual. I think it’s safe to say that’s a reflection of the visibility it got this time because of the broadband,” said Knox, of Sandwich.

The New Hampshire Electric Cooperative’s board opposed the petition by a 7-3 margin because they’re afraid it will cost too much and divert resources from the co-op’s core of delivering power. In a statement, the board said the co-op hired a consultant to examine the issue in 2018 and concluded that the downside was too great.

Knox noted that one opponent to the petition was defeated for re-election and Leo Dwyer, a Sandwich selectman who led a push for broadband in that town, was elected.

The supporters hope to take advantage of a $50 million Emergency Broadband Expansion Program announced last week using money from the federal COVID-19 stimulus program. Later this year, New Hampshire stands to gain access to $67 million in federal grants from the $20 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund; $45 million of that is earmarked for the NHEC’s service area.

The major advantage of having the electricity provider also provider broadband is that they own or have access to poles on which fiber-optic cables must be strung. Inexpensive access to poles, which are sometimes owned by power companies and sometimes by phone companies, is often an obstacle to spreading broadband to people’s homes.

No electric cooperative in the Northeast also does internet access but more than 210 electric cooperates have gotten into the broadband business in other parts of the country, particularly the Upper Midwest, according to a group called Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

 




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