Utilities Watch: Multi-state broadband system eyed for North Country
According to a recent Associated Press report on rural broadband and regional economic development efforts in northern New England, economic development officials are concerned that rural areas without broadband Internet access are being left behind as governments and companies across northern New England do more business on line.
According to recent Federal Communications Commission statistics, New Hampshire had a total of 16 providers of high-speed lines as of June 30, 2004 and a total of 168,652 high-speed lines. By comparison, Maine had 14 providers and 124,191 lines, while Vermont had 11 providers and 56,033 lines.
Nancy Berliner, executive director of the New Hampshire Rural Development Council, was quoted as saying: “If we want to position the North Country to be economically competitive, we need to create at a minimum what’s called a backbone system.” Such systems usually include ultra-high speed cabling and specialized computers called routers.
A committee led by the council is supposed to unveil a telecommunications master plan this month to address rural broadband needs this month. The AP report said that a draft of the New Hampshire plan proposes linking the state’s future broadband network to Maine, Vermont and Canada from Colebrook. Additional links would run through Conway to Maine, and Orford to Vermont.
In Vermont, a project is under way to design and build an $8.7 million fiber-optic network across six rural northern counties. Vermont’s fiber-optic “ring,” named North-Link, will connect to New York, New Hampshire and Canada near Montreal. Construction reportedly will begin this summer and take three years. Staple northern Vermont industries, including agriculture and timber-dependent businesses, are reported to be declining while technology-dependent businesses, like health-care companies, are growing.
It’s estimated that information services are nearly 17 percent of northern Vermont’s economy. Early phases of the project could generate more than 500 new jobs and help the state keep another 2,000.
Maine, on the other hand, already has a statewide fiber-optic network that reaches all libraries and schools.
Although reliable statistics on the level and quality of broadband Internet access in the region are scarce, there seems to be little doubt that access needs to be improved. Broadband growth has largely been piecemeal in New Hampshire’s rural North Country, where businesses and individual entrepreneurs often have independently established isolated high-speed Internet links, sometimes with government loans or grants.
U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud of Maine is working to establish an economic development commission that would include Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York. Co-sponsors include Rep. Charles Bass, a New Hampshire Republican, and Bernard Sanders, a Vermont independent.
Twice a year, facilities-based broadband providers must report to the FCC the number of high-speed connections in service to meet the agency’s local competition and broadband data gathering program.
For reporting purposes, high-speed lines are connections that deliver services at speeds exceeding 200 kilobits per second (kbps) in at least one direction, while advanced services lines are connections that deliver services at speeds exceeding 200 kbps in both directions.
The FCC collected data from providers with at least 250 high-speed lines in a state. Statistics reflect data as of June 30, 2004.
According to the data:
• High-speed lines connecting homes and businesses to the Internet increased by 15 percent during the first half of 2004, from 28.2 million to 32.5 million lines. That compares to a 20 percent increase — from 23.5 million to 28.2 million lines — during the second half of 2003. For the full 12-month period ending June 30, 2004, high-speed lines increased by 38 percent.
• Of the 32.5 million high-speed lines in service, 30.1 million served residential and small-business subscribers — a 16 percent increase from the 26 million residential and small-business high-speed lines reported six months earlier. For the full 12-month period ending June 30, 2004, high-speed lines for residential and small-business subscribers increased by 46 percent.
• High-speed connections in service over asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) technologies increased by 20 percent during the first half of 2004, from 9.5 million to 11.4 million lines, compared to a 24 percent increase — from 7.7 million to 9.5 million lines — during the preceding six months. For the full 12-month period ending June 30, 2004, high-speed ADSL increased by 49 percent.
• High-speed coaxial cable connections (cable modem service) increased by 13 percent during the first six months of 2004, from 16.4 million to 18.6 million lines, compared to a 20 percent increase in the second half of 2003, from 13.7 million to 16.4 million lines. For the full 12-month period ending June 30, 2004, high-speed cable modem connections increased by 36 percent.
The remaining 2.5 million high-speed connections in service are accounted for by satellite or wireless, wireline other than ADSL, and fiber high-speed connections.
Of the 32.5 million high-speed lines, 23.5 million provided advanced services — services at speeds exceeding 200 kbps in both directions. Advanced services lines increased 15 percent during the first half of 2004, from 20.3 million to 23.5 million lines. For the full 12-month period ending June 30, 2004, advanced services lines of all technology types increased by 44 percent.
About 21.2 million of the 23.5 million advanced services lines served residential and small business subscribers.
Among advanced services lines, ADSL lines increased by 24 percent during the first six months of 2004, compared to a 15 percent increase for cable modem service. For the full 12-month period ending June 30, 2004, advanced services lines for ADSL increased by 49 percent and cable modem connections increased by 47 percent. nhbr
Doug Patch, former chairman of the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission, is with the Concord law firm of Orr and Reno.