New Hampshire Senate OKs grant distribution plan for broadband projects
Measure would set up process for divvying up federal funds
The state would provide matching grants using federal money to build out broadband internet service in rural communities if a bill passed unanimously by the New Hampshire Senate on Thursday becomes law.
Senate Bill 85 does not appropriate any money, but it does instruct the Office of Strategic Initiatives to set up a fund and competitive grant process to provide a 50% match with federal funds that the state receives, be it from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan or an even larger infrastructure plan that Congress is currently debating.
The American Rescue Plan doesn’t provide for municipal or regional broadband construction, though it does earmark $7.2 billion for an Emergency Connectivity Fund for schools and libraries. The state is also expected to receive close to $1 billion in flexible funds, so there appears to be plenty of money available to fund such projects.
The plan also includes another $10 billion for “Coronavirus Capital Projects” to fund state projects enabling work, education and health monitoring.
SB 85, whose main sponsor is Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, leaves it up the Office of Strategic Initiatives to devise “objective criteria” to judge which subdivisions, or communications districts, or even private investors will get the money.
The bill does set a few guidelines. The process must be technology-neutral, be completed within reasonable timelines, protect proprietary and financial information, and promote faster internet service. Money can be spent on construction, but not operation.
The bill would fund projects in the planning stages, but not those that are already under construction. This has caused some communities to pause, said Sen. Jay Kahn, D-Keene.
“I know a number of towns that passed warrant articles, but they are not entering into a contract because they fear of losing eligibility of the funds if they are now under construction,”
Bradley said that he hasn’t studied the issue but was sure that the New Hampshire House could fix such a problem when it considers the bill.