EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 1, 2013

Report: NH broadband service good, could be better

By John Toole

---- — New Hampshire is at the forefront nationally for high-speed Internet, but there are still gaps affecting some neighborhoods, schools and medical facilities, a draft regional report concludes.

The Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission’s report highlights strengths and weaknesses in Derry, Londonderry, Windham and Chester.

A workshop forum on the report will be held Thursday in Manchester.

The plan recommends the region work toward improving bandwidth and speed, promote free Wi-Fi hotspots and that towns cooperate on cable agreements to emphasize broadband and expand service.

“Broadband infrastructure and services currently are available throughout the region,” the report said. “There are however, isolated and stranded neighborhoods within most every town/city in the region which lack high speed broadband access and connectivity.”

The report also concluded broadband service is still too costly for some families and households.

“It is, for some low- and moderate-income people, including immigrants and refugees,” said Jack Munn, the commission’s chief planner.

Windham officials, responding to a request for input, said a better broadband “backbone” is needed to ensure service during power outages. They also want to improve service to aid businesses.

In examining regional service, the report found broadband lacking for some healthcare facilities in Londonderry, Derry and Windham.

Parts of Chester enjoyed some of the fastest service in the region via optical fiber, the report said.

The report also concluded some schools in Chester and Londonderry lack broadband, though Superintendent Nate Greenberg of Londonderry disputed that analysis.

“We’ve got that in all our schools and have had it for a number of years,” Greenberg said.

Laura Scott, community development director for Windham, said broadband is sometimes more critical for economic development than are roads, water and sewer.

“Southern New Hamsphire is looked at as a place where businesses can start up in the basement of entrepreneurs on the weekends, but critical to that is Internet,” Scott said.

So regional planning efforts are key, she said.

“The regional planning efforts on broadband is important to ensure that this economic development link is not overlooked,” Scott said.

People get a chance to speak about the plan at the forum 6 p.m. Thursday at the Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission offices, 438 Dubuque St. in Manchester.

“Anybody who has an interest can speak,” Munn said.

That includes residents and business owners, he said.

People who can’t attend are welcome to send written comments to Munn at jmunn@snhpc.org or at SNHPC, 438 Dubuque St., Manchester, 03102.

The plan is on the commission’s website, snhpc.org.

The report will be finalized next year and integrated with a statewide plan.