It’s time to let all towns bond for broadband
Legislature should make it easier, not harder, for communities to access internet
Local governments can connect rural New Hampshire to high-quality internet access and to the educational opportunities and economic advancement that it enables. But first, the General Court must stop preventing them from borrowing to fund needed broadband infrastructure.
Municipal broadband networks are motivated by growing the local economy and improving residents’ quality of life, not maximizing profits, so they’re more likely to expand internet access in rural areas that aren’t profitable enough for private companies to serve. About 500 communities across the country have access to publicly owned broadband networks, according to numbers compiled by me and my colleagues at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
To connect their communities to modern internet access, local governments need the ability to finance broadband networks by issuing bonds, just as they do for other essential infrastructure. Unfortunately, New Hampshire currently limits the ability of cities and towns to borrow for these networks.
Recent changes in state law allow local governments to bond, but only in neighborhoods without any broadband access. Building a financially viable network or public-private partnership often requires combining neighborhoods of different densities to even out costs, which isn’t feasible under current law. These restrictions effectively prevent municipalities from meeting their citizens’ basic needs.
Towns and cities need broad authority to borrow for essential infrastructure, not limited ability to subsidize private internet access providers in certain circumstances. Connecting rural New Hampshire requires action from private providers and local governments alike, but towns and cities need full authority from the state to solve the problem.
Katie Kienbaum is a research associate with the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.