ALBANY — A group calling itself Carroll County Broadband seeks to bring high-speed internet access to every home and business in the county and is seeking letters of commitment from each town by Sept. 1.
Conway selectmen will discuss it next week.
Co-chairs of the group are Albany Selectman Rick Hiland and resident Steve Knox. Several members met at Albany Town Hall on Aug. 8 to give the Sun an update on their efforts. Also in attendance were Eaton's representative to the group, John Border; Glenn Coppelman of North Country Council; Lakes Region Planning Commission representative Pat Farley; Moultonborough selectman Bill Gassman; Tamworth Selectman Becky Mason; and Carroll County Administrator Ken Robichaud.
Hiland explained that since the population of northern New Hampshire is lower than in southern New Hampshire, every bit of support the group can get is appreciated. "We need to get some attention up here, and if we scream together, maybe we will get that," he said.
Conway Town Manager Tom Holmes said Monday that Hiland and Knox are on the selectmen's agenda for Aug. 27.
As of Monday, Carroll County Broadband hadn't gotten a response from Freedom, Ossipee or Hale's Location. "Madison and Jackson have taken a "wait and see approach," said Knox, adding that 13 of 19 Carroll County communities have expressed interest.
Both Chatham, the northernmost town in the county, and Wakefield, the southernmost town, are both on board.
The group is looking for a representative and alternate from each town.
Asked what the group's main message is, Gassman said it is to get high-speed internet access into every home and business in the county.
"If we're not there, we're not done," said Gassman.
One goal of the feasibility study would be to determine which areas aren't being served with fiber optic or are undeserved with slow internet.
High-speed internet matters for several reasons, one of which is it allows for images and video to load quickly. Broadband is also needed if more than one person in a home wants to stream video over the internet at the same time.
In some areas of the county, the internet is too slow for images and video, and this precludes businesses and prospective residents from locating in such places. Slow internet also prevents people from accessing tele-medicine, video conferencing and Netflix.
"To move to the 21st century with all the medicine and educational (programs) that's coming, we need a faster service available to businesses and homeowners to be able to survive," said Mason.
"It's a whole quality-of-life thing," said Coppelman. "We are becoming more and more data-dependent in all aspects of our life, and if we don't build the infrastructure to be able to deal with all of that, the region will be left behind."
Farley said lack of internet access would chop 25 percent off a home's value.
Those who offer their homes for rent will be "passed over" if it doesn't have high speed internet, said Gassman.
Carroll County Broadband, through the North Country Council, along with three partner organizations, is applying for a $250,000 USDA Rural Community Development Initiative grant to do feasibility studies and or business plans.
The study might cost up to $50,000.
The other partner organizations are CTC Technology and Energy of Maryland, and Rural Innovation Strategies and Valley Net, both of Vermont. Those other organizations have paid $250,000 in matching funds, but Carroll County Broadband doesn't have to put up matching funds.
The grant application is to help six areas of the country get broadband access. They include not only Carroll County and the Upper Valley in New Hampshire but also two areas of Vermont and areas in Arkansas and Texas.
Knox and Hiland said that they should hear about about the grant in September or October.
In July, Gov. Chris Sununu signed a bill into law allowing New Hampshire towns to get together for the sake of bonding projects, and that could be useful in terms of doing a broadbrand project, group members said.
Nevertheless, Maine and Vermont state governments have been much more aggressive about increasing broadband access than New Hampshire, group members said.
"We cannot allow this to be Act 2 of electrification," said Knox, adding he remembers not having electricity while growing up on Passaconaway Road in Albany in the 1940s and heard Hart's Location didn't get electricity until 1976.