NH Electric Cooperative cuts the ribbon on rural broadband service

First 900 customers in Sullivan, Coos counties now have high-speed access
Nhec Broadband Ribbon Cutting Group

Tom Mongeon, chair of the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative board, prepares to cut the ribbon marking the start of NHEC broadband service to the first 900 members of the co-op at an outdoor ceremony held Dec. 15 in Lempster.

Nearly 900 members of the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative now have high-speed internet service, the first step in the utility’s eagerly awaited mission of bringing broadband to the state’s rural areas.

The co-op marked completion of two fiber-optic networks Dec. 15, providing members in four towns – Lempster, Clarksville, Colebrook and Stewartstown – with access to internet services with upload/download speeds as high as 1 gigabit per second.

The initial broadband projects were supported by a $6.7 million grant from the state’s Connecting New Hampshire Emergency Broadband Program and are the Co-op’s first steps towards its goal of ensuring all its members have access to the high-speed Internet service they need.

The new service was officially inaugurated at a Dec. 15 gathering in Lempster, the town where 81 years ago the co-op’s mission of electrifying rural New Hampshire began.

Tom Mongeon, chair of the NHEC board, hailed the arrival of broadband service as a “historic milestone” for members, who like their predecessors in 1939, had been bypassed for service by existing providers.

Tight schedule

Among those joining co-op and town officials was Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, who emphasized the importance of broadband to New Hampshire students, many of whom are struggling in the absence of adequate service to keep up with online schooling in the Covid-19 era.

“Projects like this are going to make an important difference for our communities, and particularly our rural communities,” Edelblut said. “By bringing high-speed, high-capacity internet into these communities, what we’ve really done is open up opportunities for the citizens and students of New Hampshire. Not only are they able to find more efficient, effective ways to access their education, we are opening up worlds to them through access to high-speed broadband Internet.”

Philip Tirrell, chair of the Lempster Board of Selectmen, stressed the importance of internet connectivity to residents of rural Sullivan and Coos counties where the first co-op members are receiving service.

“This year has been a change for the entire country,” he said. “Our students are working remotely every Wednesday, many of them without adequate internet coverage, and having a difficult time trying to participate … so today is historic for us. It will help launch us into everything this town needs for the future.”

The schedule to complete Work on NHEC’s initial broadband project was a tight one, since the state grant required that the project be available to members of Dec. 15, giving the co-op six months to complete it. Key to meeting the deadline, said NHEC CEO Steve Camerino, were Tilson Tech, Mission Broadband, Granite State Communications and the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative.

“Bringing this project from conception to completion in only six months was an incredible feat, and took the herculean efforts of an entire team,” Camerino said.

Robert Cruickshank, recent hired by NHEC to oversee the broadband buildout, said the co-op would be working closely with towns, the state and federal government, contractors and existing telecommunications providers as it continues its work.

He said NHEC will continue to seek out federal and state funding for construction.

“Our entry into broadband internet isn’t just good news, it’s essential news, especially as we ramp down from all the pandemic activities that have kept us so cloistered. Broadband clearly is a service that’s on par with electricity and water, and we’re proud to be able to bring that to our communities,” said Cruickshank.

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