Broadband committee urges school to seek fiber connection
by Jeanette Boos
Nov 17, 2011 | 796 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
HALIFAX - All five members of the town’s appointed broadband committee attended the November 7 school board meeting, urging board members to apply for E-Rate funding with the option to provide a fiber connection to the school.

Committee member Edee Edwards said, “It is the time of year that the school board would be applying for E-Rate discounted funding, and we were encouraging them to do so.”

The school board decided to contact Steve Adams, the E-Rate funding coordinator for Windham Southwest Supervisory Union, for information on when the forms were due. According to Adams, the initial application for E-Rate funding should be submitted within the next month, and it should specify the Internet service requirements that the school is looking for. Adams said, “It’s OK to say that we’re looking for the same thing (as previous years), or it may be a bit faster, or it may be much faster.” Adams recommended that the school board apply for the E-Rate requesting a variety of speeds for Internet service.

Adams said that the requests would then be available for Internet service providers to bid on, and the school board would then review the bids and decide in late January which service provider to choose, with cost being the primary factor.

Adams explained, “The E-Rate is a fund that was generated in the late 1990s to get Internet access to schools and libraries at a discounted price. Everybody under the sun pays a three percent tax on their phone bill, which goes into this fund.”

In April the school board declined to sign on to a commitment with Sovernet Communications, which would use approximately $200,000 in federal grant money to bring a fiber-optic line to the school. Every other school in the WSSU district agreed to sign a commitment with Sovernet for a fiber connection and will be given priority when the line is installed. Gregg Noble, of Sovernet, said, “Since the school is technically still an anchor, it would be possible to get added back into the plans for the 2013 build-out.”

At Wednesday’s school board workshop meeting, chair Homer Sumner said that the school board will still pursue the possibility of bringing a fiber connection to the school, but would not sign a commitment with a particular provider.

School board member Paul Blais said that he would contact the public service board to find out when a ruling will be made regarding the possibility of a fiber installation provided by FairPoint Communications.

Broadband committee chair Earl Holtz said that it would not matter which provider brought a fiber connection to the school, providing other service providers could “dangle” onto it, providing further connections to town residences and businesses. “It would be kind of the backbone. Not one entity owns it. Once you have fiber into the town, you have an extremely high-speed trunk line.”

Edwards said, “Our interest as the broadband committee is to make sure that Halifax is on a level playing field with other towns, and that we’re ready to tap into it for the last mile.”

Based on a recent survey with approximately 150 responses (100 from full-time residents and 50 from part-time residents), the broadband committee has determined that 82 residents, and 27 seasonal residents, wish to have broadband Internet service. Regarding the question of whether they would support bringing a fiber connection to the school, 66% said “yes,” 27% said “unsure,” and seven percent said “no.”

Regarding current Internet connections, 43 residents use satellite, 30 use dial-up, 20 use DSL, eight use cell coverage, and three reported using “other”. When away from home (at work or at a library), 45 responded that they used DSL.

Holtz said, “We’re not as concerned with getting fiber, but just getting broadband to the town. The advantage we see for fiber is other people can dangle off of that. We see it as a way to a means for the whole town.”
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