CHESTERFIELD, N.H. — A project to string the entire town of Chesterfield with fiber optic cable recently received national recognition for its unique funding model.
"The Town of Chesterfield ... entered into a public-private partnership with Consolidated Communications to install a fiber-based data network in Chesterfield that will deliver fiber-to-the-premises... for every resident and business in the Town," states a press release from the Council of Development Finance Agencies.
Chesterfield financed approximately 40 percent of the cost by bonding, and Consolidated Communications is guaranteeing the payment of interest and principal of the bond for the duration of the bond. The funds for the payment of interest and principal will be collected via a maximum $10 per month subscriber infrastructure fee.
The project will provide fiber-to-the-premises for the entire town at no cost to the taxpayer, paid for by the broadband subscribers.
The project received the CFDA's Excellence in Development Finance Innovation Award.
Brad Roscoe, a former member of the Chesterfield Board of Selectmen, has been spearheading the program for the town since his time on the board. He said Consolidated has finished stringing up fiber optic throughout the town and is now making appointments to run the cable to individual homes.
Jon McKeon, current chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said Roscoe's involvement was crucial to the success of the project.
"We are lucky to have Brad on our team," said McKeon, during a ribbon cutting ceremony on Oct. 23. "His persistence has paid off for the town of Chesterfield. He also has blazed the trail for other communities to follow in the town's footsteps and help improve broadband coverage and quality of life for many people."
Roscoe told the Reformer that people around the state and the nation have been watching the Chesterfield project as it has proceeded.
"I've been talking to lot of other people in other towns in New Hampshire and Vermont," he said. "About six towns in New Hampshire are following the same financing model and are hoping to put it to Town Meeting."
However, noted Roscoe, what works in Chesterfield might not work in other towns. The town of Chesterfield took advantage of legislation recently passed in Concord in 2018. SB 170 gave communities the authority to go out and bond for their own internet network infrastructure. But the legislation had a catch — the network had to connect unserved residents to qualify for bonding. The legislation made it possible in Chesterfield because the state Legislature defined the unserved by each individual home, rather than by census block, as mandated by the Federal Communications Commission.
"When I started putting together a coverage map, I found out the information the FCC and state had was incorrect," Roscoe said. "A big problem was that they used census blocks. This meant if one home had service, the whole census block had good coverage."
About 16 percent of Chesterfield was unserved prior to the town accepting Consolidated Communications' winning bid to wire the town with fiber optic cable. But to serve that 16 percent, Consolidated needed to run the cable throughout Chesterfield, meaning it passes every home in the nearly 50 square miles within the town limits. Doing so made the project affordable for Consolidated because now anyone in Chesterfield can sign up for service through the company that acquired FairPoint Communications in July 2017.
Since acquiring FairPoint, states the article in Broadband Communities Magazine, Consolidated has upgraded 500,000 residents and small businesses throughout Northern New England, including 140,000 upgrades across New Hampshire.
Homes that are hooked up to Consolidated's new infrastructure will have access right now to internet and phone service. Consolidated hopes to soon roll out its new MobiTV-based CCI TV platform in the region, its own version of cable television that will include all the channels consumers are used to having through current service providers as well as local channels not available through internet streaming services.
Roscoe said folks who don't want Consolidated's service can still get internet and cable television through Comcast and Argent Communications. In addition, WiValley offers access to wireless broadband in some parts of town.
The total cost of the project is $4.3 million, with Consolidated putting up $2.5 million of its own money and the town bonding another $1.8 million.
As part of the agreement, said Roscoe, if Consolidated's subscriber base can't cover the costs of the bond payments through the $10 charge, Consolidated will make up the difference.
"And, if for some reason Consolidated was to file bankruptcy, the town would own the infrastructure and would be able to offer it to a new provider," he said.
The network is expected to provide speeds of up to 1 gigabyte per second. Depending on the service, overall customer charges will run from $49.99 to $199 a month.
"Over the period of the bond, the town will own the infrastructure and lease it back to us," Rob Koester, vice president of consumer product at Consolidated Communications, told the Reformer last March. "After the bond is paid off, we will own it. While the town owns it, we will still be responsible for repair, maintenance and installations. This is ground-breaking legislation and is how a public/private partnership should work."
But none of this could have happened without Roscoe's involvement, said McKeon.
"Brad did his research and homework, devised a plan, and came to the Board with his vision about a year or so into his term," he said during the ribbon cutting. "The Board shot him down. He came back with another plan the following year involving the town co-sponsoring/paying to have more towers installed. Again we, listened but eventually shot him down. At that point I told him I was sorry, I felt bad we kept shooting him down ... [but] he didn't skip a beat. ... Brad didn't give up. He came back to us with the gem we see before us."
Now that the Chesterfield project is well underway, Roscoe and his knowledge are in demand around the region.
"I have been traveling around the state, talking to a bunch of different towns and different communications committees about what I learned and what mistakes we made along the way," said Roscoe. "I see this as a public good to get people on the broadband wagon."
Roscoe has a Bachelors of Science degree in electrical engineering and a Masters in nuclear science and engineering. He also has Ph.D. in nuclear engineering. In 2014, he retired after 33 years with Schlumberger Limited, where he worked on pulsed-neutron tools, a nuclear detector and nuclear modeling. He was Schlumgerger's scientific advisor and nuclear program manager in Boston for seven years before retiring to Chesterfield.
Chesterfield residents can sign up for the service through Consolidated at MyCCIAccount.com.
Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or firstname.lastname@example.org.