BRISTOL — Joined by state and congressional leaders, Bristol officials and the two companies handling a fiberoptic internet buildout in the community held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sept. 16 that marked the official “flipping of the switch” to open up fast, affordable broadband service to businesses and residents.
The ribbon-cutting took place in front of the town office building, then the event moved up the street to the Old Town Hall where the invited dignitaries or their representatives spoke of the importance of Bristol’s initiative, which will be extended to other towns in Grafton County.
“We want to make sure this kind of model is not only available to other places in New Hampshire, but also available 'round the country,” said Sen. Maggie Hassan.
The Bristol Broadband Now network originated several years ago with the vision of Bill Dowey, a member of the Bristol Economic Development Committee. Businesses had been frustrated by the lack of reliable internet and spotty coverage downtown where the surrounding mountains blocked cell towers. Internet providers had shown little interest in making the investments necessary to boost service for so small a community, so Dowey began looking into what the town could do on its own.
He found an ally in Bristol Town Administrator Nicholas Coates, who made it his personal priority to move the idea forward. At the Old Town Hall on Thursday, he explained one reason why.
“We all have our pandemic stories,” he said. “I have a son who’s 12. I can remember very vividly in the last year him struggling to get instruction... Every time he would start to do his work, our internet connection would cut out. We got very frustrated; he essentially lost a year. So, for me, it’s a very personal story.”
If it was not economically feasible for internet companies to make the necessary investment in Bristol, it was even harder to justify asking taxpayers to foot the bill, but Coates and the Bristol Board of Selectmen sought grant funding to help make it happen.
Bristol voters, by a split vote, agreed to move forward, and the project took a two-phase approach: First, using local, state, and federal grants, the infrastructure was upgraded and the fiber network already in place for the Newfound Area School District was extended. That first phase was funded by a $1.52 million Connecting New Hampshire Emergency Broadband Expansion grant through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. It created a 24-mile fiber route that could accommodate 400 clients, from downtown Bristol to the statewide NetworkNH system at Plymouth State University. That work was completed last December.
The just-completed second phase provides the additional fiber backbone necessary to connect all of Bristol’s municipal, educational, and commercial buildings. It was funded by a $260,000 Northern Border Regional Commission grant and town money.
The infrastructure work was completed by eX², an Omaha, Nebraska-based company that specializes in smart city networks, intelligent transportation, critical infrastructure, and private network solutions and services. Chief Operating Officer Jay Jorgensen said, “We do biographic builds all across the country, and there was a unique sense of cooperation and collaboration here.”
Jorgensen credited the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative with providing valuable assistance in gaining access to the utility poles and supporting the broadband effort.
With the lines now in place, Hub66 will be building a network operations center in the Bristol Town Office to serve as a base of operations for internet service. The company will be sending out fliers with information on how property owners can tie into the fiber network. Hub66, based in Acton, Massachusetts, currently serves more than 2,500 residential and commercial locations.
“We’re really excited to be invited into the fabric of the town,” said Andrea Vient, chief executive officer for Hub66. “We’re looking forward to working with the residents and the businesses to get them connected, and really discover what we can do together.”
Coates credited Sen. Hassan with making broadband a national priority and helping the town obtain the support it needed to get the project done. During her remarks, Hassan used the opportunity to promote Congress’ infrastructure bill that is providing additional money for broadband expansion.
Representatives from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and reps. Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas also spoke of the importance of Bristol’s effort. Jared Chicoine, commissioner of New Hampshire’s new Department of Energy, appeared on behalf of Gov. Chris Sununu.
Chicoine said the lack of adequate access to broadband is one of the most important challenges the state faces, and under the former Office of Strategic Initiatives, he worked with the Department of Education and the Public Utilities Commission to assist towns and service providers to implement the Connecting New Hampshire program.
“The tight deadlines in the federal CARES Act, which funded this program, posed a challenge for many broadband projects,” Chicoine said, “but together with Nik and his team, we were able to assist. … Bristol is an outstanding example of a town putting in the time and effort to help their citizens take advantage of this opportunity.”
Hub66 will be offering fiber-to-the-home internet service to the roughly 400 homes located on the phase one route, and over the next five years, will provide the fiber and wireless internet to the whole community.
The town also announced that the program will be expanded to other towns in Grafton County. The town of Hebron has awarded a grant to Bristol Broadband Now to create the next leg of the high-speed corridor, currently running north to Plymouth, by bringing it south along Route 3-A, back to Bristol.
Coates is serving as chair of the Grafton County Broadband Committee that is planning to build the network to every town hall in Grafton County through a $26.2 million infrastructure investment.
T.P. Caldwell is a writer, editor, photographer, and videographer who formed and serves as project manager of the Liberty Independent Media Project. Contact him at email@example.com.