The city sees broadband as the key to its success
A windfall of federal money is opening doors for Internet access in rural areas. The pandemic exposed existing inequalities that prevented those without reliable broadband from accessing telehealth, distance schooling, and work. In Bristol and Grafton County, broadband expansion is underway.
All Things Considered host Peter Biello spoke to Bristol City Administrator Nik Coates about the city’s plans to expand broadband and what that might mean for the future. Below is a transcript of their conversation.
Peter Biello: Millions of federal dollars are spent throughout Granite State to expand broadband access. The pandemic has laid bare the need for internet access in rural areas.
The city of Bristol, County Grafton, received $ 1.6 million from the CARES Act last year and is set to get more than $ 300,000 more from the US bailout. The idea is to direct this funding towards providing more equitable Internet access in the community.
So give us an idea of ââwhat broadband access looks like in Bristol right now.
Coats : Thus, broadband access in Bristol is spotty, as in many communities, especially small communities where there is essentially only one provider, that is the cable company and the cable company provides service over cable. coaxial. It is therefore not the fastest. It’s not the slowest, I mean, it’s definitely not satellite, but it’s not how fast we want to be able to develop high tech businesses here, provide stable and reliable internet for schooling, for distance work. So before the pandemic we were thinking a lot about the importance of telehealth and the importance of telecommuting and distance education and the pandemic kind of accentuated that.
And so right now we have a provider in town, the cable company, and what we’ve identified is that there is slow service or, in some places, there is really no service. And that puts us behind ball eight in terms of how the community and our schools operate.
Biello: So expanding is both about making the lines you have faster and expanding the lines to places that don’t have them yet.
Coats : That’s right. So the projects that we put in place, we built a new system which is really focused on trying to connect all of our municipal buildings and one aspect of it to the university system and received internet service through the university system . , which we can then connect to schools, which allows schools to be able to connect to advanced research at those universities, as well as MIT and the University of Vermont and as well as the municipality. And then the other element is a private network which is going to be managed by a private provider. This is going to be a much higher and much more stable speed for people who need better internet at home for all the various reasons, such as health, education, and homework, so there is the component to multifaceted. We really have basically rebuilt the system here in Bristol to meet our needs and be able to control our destiny as a community.
Biello: Thus, the city of Bristol receives a fair amount of money from the federal government through various channels. How important is this money? What will this make possible?
Coats : This will completely improve our regional economy. So what we realized very early on, before this whole pandemic even happened, is that we have to have an international manufacturing facility here in town, then. We also have regional businesses and we have smaller businesses. And what we have realized is that one of the biggest weaknesses they all have is the ability to have good internet speeds and good stable internet connections. What we think is going to happen is that it’s going to allow the biggest company here in town to be able to expand their operations and stay strong and stay with us.
This will allow some of these smaller guys [of] companies to really grow and grow and get to market a lot easier, a lot faster. And that will also level the playing field for our children. Like many communities in the state, what’s really important about this Internet system is the telehealth aspect. We have a lot of people trying to recover from different addiction issues or mental health services. And you can’t provide telehealth if you don’t have a decent internet connection. We have a health care provider here in town who is really focused on delivering that level of service. But they weren’t able to provide that level of service because the internet connections in those homes didn’t exist. So, being able to have people who have those internet connections, they can now access mental health services, addiction treatment, regular doctor appointments that they may not necessarily be able to. .
So for us, it’s both an economic improvement as a community and being able to help us broaden our tax base, but also to really have the best quality of life so that people can live here and have access to health care and all the different things they need to be able to access.
Biello: You said it’s not just something that will help Bristol’s economy, but the regional economy. What do you think other cities can learn from your experience with obtaining this federal money and deploying it in the service of broadband expansion?
Coats : Well, the good news is that a lot of these communities are going to learn the things that we bang our heads against the wall on for about three years or so. Things like “how do you build it? So who do you need to build it? What should it look like? Where should he go? What kinds of decisions do you have to make about it? Things like insurance, you know, how do you insure something like that? Things like how do you work with pole owners to make sure you can build a system on someone else’s pole, to really understand what the needs of the community are.
So what we hope is that with all the things that we did wrong in the first couple of years and figured out how to do it right, we can now move forward and help these communities have a role model. so that they can do it a lot easier and a lot faster. And what is really important is that we are all linked together. Bristol’s economy is not tied to the way Bristol does its job and does its job. But Bristol could also, more importantly, be successful in working with partners from neighboring communities and the county, because if we can uplift the county and do it across the county, it will make the county much more viable.
Not to do wax poetry, but I grew up in New Hampshire, and there was always this talk of how to improve the North Country? How can we lift the land of the North? How can we help the North Country get back on its feet? And I really believe that’s the best way to do it is that the county can be the most connected county in the country which will set it apart from other places because what people are looking for now is the ability to be able to access that internet system and have a fast internet connection and be able to do whatever they need to do. But they also want quality of life, being able to hike in the mountains and cycle the trails and have good schools. What I think this will be able to do, by helping to show the way, is that other communities will be able to do it themselves. And then we will have a dynamic riding, which will really put us on the map.
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