Broadband

The board of directors of the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative voted in 2020 to create a separate entity to facilitate members’ access to high-speed Internet.

A consumer group hopes to shake up the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative 11-member board and bring a heightened sense of urgency when it comes to broadband internet.

New Hampshire Broadband Advocates, a grassroots group born a year ago out of frustration with slow and unreliable internet service in rural New Hampshire, has endorsed two new candidates for the NHEC board and one incumbent who initially headed up the co-op’s new nonprofit broadband venture.

The co-op’s annual board elections begin Wednesday and conclude on June 10 for four open seats.

The endorsements include:

• First-time candidate John Goodrich, a veteran of the electric power industry from Littleton.

• First-time candidate Carla Muskat, a human resources specialist from Sandwich.

• Incumbent Jeffrey Morrill, the board’s vice-chair, a business consultant from Holderness.

The call for “new voices” is not a sign of no confidence in the board, said Richard Knox, chair of the Advocates group, in a statement.

“The current board deserves high praise for its responsiveness to co-op members’ call last spring to branch out into broadband,” he said. “But these fast-changing times call for NHEC to step up its game and be more proactive to meet members’ expectations.”

The board needs to be more nimble to position itself for government subsidies for rural broadband, said Tony Wagner, another founder of the Advocates group.

The Biden Administration this week released the rules for how $1.9 trillion in funds under the American Rescue Plan Act may be spent, according to a news release.

New Hampshire state government, counties and municipalities stand to receive $1.5 billion in Rescue Plan funds, a significant fraction of which may be spent on broadband infrastructure.

“This is a not-to-be-missed opportunity to address the crying need for 21st-century broadband in New Hampshire towns that don’t have the population density to attract investor-owned internet service providers,” Wagner said. “Every dollar the Co-op wins in the competition for these funds is a dollar the utility won’t have to borrow to build broadband infrastructure.”

The broadband initiatives will not be paid for by raising electricity rates or with money from the electric side of the business, according to a news release.

The 82-year-old co-op is owned by its 85,000 members in 118 towns, from Derry in the southern tier to Colebrook in the North Country.