Significant expansion of fiber optics network in NH

By Brian Ward
On January 28, 2014

The Network New Hampshire Now (NNHN) project was completed on Dec. 31, successfully expanding broadband access across the state. In the three-and-a-half years since the $63 million project began, the NNHN has added 865 miles of fiber optic network cables extending through all ten counties. At the official announcement and celebration of the project's completion on Jan. 10, Gov. Maggie Hassan lauded the work done by the NNHN.

"Our state is a lot stronger today because of the collaboration you all have done," Hassan said.

Scott Valcourt is the project leader of NNHN and recently received an award from the governor for his work. During the course of the project, he and his team were able to lay down more wires and connect more sites than they had first expected.

"I'm extremely pleased with the result achieved, doing more with what we were given and the impact already being seen in the state," Valcourt said. "In a short window of time we've already seen new uses and deployment taking place."

Fiber optic cables are made from insulated strands of glass the thickness of a human hair, sending data through pulses of light. While more expensive, fiber optics are less prone to electrical interference and can carry more data than traditional copper cables. Back in 2009, the federal government allocated $4.7 billion to expand broadband in rural parts of America, with money for similar broadband projects given to all 50 states and some U.S territories. 

"Estimates are that to connect all of rural America is [in the] $300-400 billion range," Valcourt said, "so because the federal agency knew the amount available wouldn't connect everyone, they took a strategic approach to connect with the middle mile."

The term "middle mile" in broadband refers to setting up broadband networks like highway routes. The fiber optic cables are laid out like a super highway between Community Anchor Institutions (CAI) and key institutions within towns such as libraries, public municipal buildings, schools, medical facilities and government buildings.

After connecting to CAIs the new broadband network can be branched out into smaller routes to connect neighborhoods and homes.  Using this method, the project was able to connect 320 CAIs in the state, with the added benefit of bringing 12,000 in-state businesses within three miles of a high-speed connection.

"That's the opportunity for everyone," Valcourt said. "Initial benefits have been increases [in] opportunities for entrepreneurship, people creating new companies, expanding New Hampshire technology and economy, working from home with increased resources and people starting home-based businesses." 

In addition to business, Valcourt mentioned that some medical institutions have taken advantage of the broadband network by using telecommunications for diagnoses, consultations and delivery of medical services. He also pointed to how the increased broadband will benefit education at all levels; three college networks, the UNH Cooperative Extension, the Community College System of New Hampshire and the University System of New Hampshire already upgraded and are running at 1-10 gigabits per second.

"I'm looking forward to [the] advantages of what we have out there now in research, education and outreach for the people of New Hampshire," Valcourt said.  

Joanna Young is the chief information officer for UNH and when the project first came up it fell under her purview. She said that she was really honored to lead the project and that Valcourt deserves a lot of credit for his brainchild.

"I'm very happy. We ended [up] completing more than we set out to do when the whole grant is considered," Young said.

"The university system and the community college system, those benefit exponentially from improved bandwidth out to the Internet," Young said. "There's a general benefit in terms of more physical broadband infrastructure across all 10 counties [now in the position] for the economic and social benefits that come with greater broadband." 

For example, Young pointed out the broadband network extending along the Integrated Transport system of Route 93 up to Concord. She said she appreciates the added tech along the road, especially when driving in the middle of winter. 

"If you're driving along the road and see [a] sign that says freezing rain, along with E-ZPass, [those are] enabled with broadband," Young said. "You can't have that without Internet. Now that system is extended; there are more highway miles in New Hampshire that have technology. People can travel more safely and securely."

Another aspect of the project was the consolidation of public networks. Before the project, the New Hampshire Department of Safety, New Hampshire Public Television, New Hampshire National Guard, New Hampshire Department of Research and Economic Development, and the New Hampshire Department of Transportation had individual networks being relayed via microwave across the same 20 mountaintops in New Hampshire. The NNHN consolidated all five networks, saving a lot of money for the state and upgrading the network capacity for each department by a factor of 20. In simple terms, the State Police now have the ability to share images and video across the network and dispatching vehicles can be done a lot more easily and accurately. 

"I think the university should be really happy [with] the work Scott [Valcourt] has done on behalf of the state and the university," Young said. 

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