Cyberinfrastructure Projects in New Hampshire

Scott Valcourt, Director of Strategic Technology, University of New Hampshire and Fay Rubin, Director of GRANIT, University of New Hampshire

Cyberinfrastructure refers to the suite of tools, resources and knowledgeable personnel that, when connected together, makes possible advances in nearly every aspect of life. Because it is so critical to our human capacity to do more, our collective investment in cyberinfrastructure is a national priority.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 allocated $4.7 billion for the expansion of broadband in unserved and underserved areas of the US. Administered by the US Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). Two specific programs were designed to foster change: the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) and the State Broadband Initiative (SBI). New Hampshire, through a deliberate, concentrated effort of leadership from the Governor’s Office and the State ARRA Director, empowered the Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED) to convene the right people in the state to secure this federal funding. As a result, awards were made from both BTOP and SBI to New Hampshire that, when matched with state and private funding, infused over $70 million into the state.

In this article, we focus on the two projects that have kept New Hampshire at the forefront of future advances in broadband technologies, deployment, and utilization—Network New Hampshire Now and the New Hampshire Broadband Mapping and Planning Program. Future articles will address other program topics related to broadband and its impact in New Hampshire cities and towns.

Network New Hampshire Now (NNHN) was managed by the University of New Hampshire on behalf of the state through an award by the NTIA on July 1, 2010. The purpose of this grant award was to expand broadband into unserved and underserved areas of New Hampshire, paying particular attention to connecting core facilities in our communities that are referenced as community anchor institutions (CAI). By focusing the development of broadband for CAIs that exist in every community, the commercial providers can expand broadband to reach the homes and businesses that surround these CAIs and reach a fully connected state and country more quickly than waiting for the market to move. All internet service providers have access to this publicly-funded broadband network through the NTIA requirement that the BTOP assets be open-access and provided in a non-discriminatory manner.

New Hampshire was awarded a $44.5 million grant that was matched with over $18 million in mostly private funding to expand broadband. Some of the project benefits include:

* Installation of 865 miles of 144- to 288-fiber strand cabling across all 10 counties in New Hampshire;

* Connection of 320 community anchor institutions, including the University System of New Hampshire, the Community College System of New Hampshire, and several municipal, police, fire, ambulance, healthcare, libraries and educational institutions;

* Replacement of the existing public safety microwave networks of the NH State Police, NH Department of Transportation, NH Department of Resources and Economic Development, NH Public Television and the NH Army National Guard with a new system, called NHSafeNet, that operates 25 times faster with more bandwidth using current digital broadband communications, preparing New Hampshire for any future emergency communications scenario, while condensing five network operations budgets into one budget shared by all five agencies;

* Expansion of the capacity and capability of the NH Department of Transportation’s Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) to integrate the I-93 corridor from Manchester to Concord with the Salem to Manchester fiber segment within the Limited Access Right-of-Way;

* Preparing western New Hampshire with fiber access for each of 22 towns within the service area of New Hampshire Fast-Roads, a community network service provider that operates as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Monadnock Economic Development Corporation, and offers fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) in two US Census block groups in Enfield and Rindge, impacting over 1300 homes and businesses in the region; and

* Creation of a research and education optical network (RON) to propel New Hampshire’s research economy to be on par with or exceed those of Massachusetts, Texas and California with research data rates that exceed 10 gigabytes per second.

The project was completed on December 31, 2013 and was celebrated with a statewide, multi-agency gathering at the UNH School of Law in Concord on January 10, 2014. For the next twenty years, these broadband assets will become the cornerstone for future broadband expansion and use in ways not yet envisioned or even invented.

The New Hampshire Broadband Mapping and Planning Program (NHBMPP), established in January of 2010, works to improve broadband access and use in the state by inventorying and assessing broadband availability, and by engaging communities and other stakeholders in conducting planning, capacity building, technical assistance, and training initiatives. The Program, managed by the University of New Hampshire, was awarded $6.1 million, matched by $1.5 million, to conduct the four components described below.

Mapping Project

The Mapping Project contacts each of New Hampshire’s 60+ internet service providers semi-yearly and requests their service coverage data to maintain the state’s broadband availability map. The service coverage inventories describe the type(s) of technology delivering service, the data transmission speeds, and the geographies covered, and are analyzed to identify areas in the state that are served, underserved, and unserved. The NHBMPP also inventories broadband availability at the state’s CAIs (community anchor institutions). Maps are provided to legislators, community officials, businesses, stakeholders, and residents to frame public discussions and to plan for enhanced broadband availability. The New Hampshire inventories are submitted to the NTIA for inclusion in the National Broadband Map at http://broadbandmap.gov.

The online maps at http://iwantbroadbandnh.org display broadband availability in NH based on data reported by active service providers. Using the September, 2013 analysis of availability of wireline and fixed wireless technologies for speeds in excess of 6 megabytes per second (downstream) and 1.5 megabytes per second(upstream), as these categories are considered necessary to support most broadband-intensive applications, the data indicates that over 15% of the state’s residents are currently unserved/underserved by broadband at these speeds.

Planning Project

The Planning Project helps communities understand the importance of broadband availability and accessibility in maintaining vibrant economies and the state’s quality of life. All 9 of New Hampshire’s regional planning commissions are developing regional broadband plans to be integrated into a statewide broadband document by the NH Office of Energy and Planning. Efforts have included:

* Working with Broadband Stakeholder Groups (BSG) to identify regional broadband needs and barriers, as well as potential strategies to address those barriers, as input for the regional broadband plans;

* Conducting public forums in each region to share an overview of the project and receive input on the current broadband needs of community members; and

* Conducting assessments via focus group meetings and interviews to better understand broadband needs specific to the health, education, economic development, public safety, and local government sectors.

Technical Assistance and Training Project

The Technical Assistance and Training Project assesses broadband training and technical assistance needs of stakeholder groups including educational institutions, municipalities, small business, and healthcare providers. The working team designs and develops face-to-face and web-based learning modules. It also delivers workshops, training sessions and technical assistance to support increased use and adoption of broadband applications. Efforts have included:

* Conducting needs assessments via targeted surveys, focus groups, phone surveys (via the Granite State Poll), and feedback sessions;

* Developing curriculum in the form of presentations, workshops and online training resources; and

* Delivering trainings and presentations to groups such as businesses, municipal and community leaders, and the higher education community.

Capacity Building and Community Resources Project

The Capacity Building and Community Resources Project seeks to increase broadband adoption and deployment on a community-by-community basis, collaborating to create best case practices in Policy, Management, Financial Resources, and Advocacy for Business and Residential broadband. Efforts have included:

* Working with the NH Director of Broadband Technology, BSGs, the NH Telecommunications Planning and Development Advisory Committee (TAB), and others, to identify broadband deployment and adoption barriers and potential solutions;

* Researching funding options for communities to expand broadband access in rural areas;

* Developing the “NH Community Broadband Readiness Assessment Tool” to help communities with broadband planning and decision making; and

* Assisting communities in developing support for broadband expansion, adoption and use.

In addition to these two federal programs, ConnectNH (formerly the Granite State Distance Learning Network) and the newly-established UNH Broadband Center of Excellence (BCoE) round out a service package designed to stimulate and support economic development, energy efficiency, and advances in health care, public safety, improved educational opportunities, and overall quality of life.