WASHINGTON – On Friday, U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo co-hosted a roundtable of New Hampshire municipal leaders on the importance of expanding the state’s broadband infrastructure and the hope funding for that expansion can come through ongoing infrastructure funding in Congress.
Raimundo noted that during her time as Governor of Rhode Island that the issue for her constituents was not access to high-speed broadband internet access, but cost. Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig echoed that sentiment, sharing a discussion she had recently with a Manchester resident who could not afford internet or cable access and the impact federal support for lower-income residents would have.
“It would really make a tremendous difference on the daily lives of the people of our community,” she said.
Craig also noted the increased importance of the internet during the pandemic as the city introduced online bill payment for city services as well as the rollout of take-home devices for all public school students across the city during remote learning.
Across the panel, the importance of increasing broadband coverage and broadband access was echoed in different ways ranging from Manchester Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors Member Mark Cookson’s belief that 80 percent of business meetings will remain in some remote format even after the pandemic fully recedes to efforts in Bristol, New Hampshire to build a public broadband network for residents after private internet companies could not be convinced to include the town in its networks.
Hassan and Raimundo said that for the most part, there is now bipartisan support for including broadband funding in the pending infrastructure deal making its way through Congress as the way Americans do work changed during the pandemic.
“Certainly there are those who have said that infrastructure (funding) should be used to for traditional infrastructure, roads, bridges, railways,” said Raimondo. “Our response to that is that in this day and age, for all the reasons we heard on this panel, broadband is essential. It’s essential for work and it’s just as essential as a road or a bridge to get to work”
Hassan said that in the current iteration of the plan being negotiated in Congress, $65 billion of the $550 billion in the package would go toward broadband funding.