ACWORTH, NH – It used to take more than 18 hours for the United Church of Acworth to upload one weekly church service to the internet, recalled parishioner Sally Eaton, if its slow connection didn’t time out first. But since the launch this month of New Hampshire Electric Cooperative’s (NHEC) town-wide fiber-optic service, the job is done in minutes.
“Our mission is to share our services with everyone, and this is making it much easier to do that,” Eaton told a gathering of town officials, residents and others celebrating the arrival July 14 of high-speed internet to this Sullivan County town of fewer than a thousand residents. Some parishioners are not physically able to attend services, Eaton explained, others are traveling but want to feel part of the congregation when they’re away. A new 1-Gig fiber internet connection in the historic church is already providing new ways to bring people together in a place that’s been the center of town life for more than 200 years.
The start of service to Acworth this month marks the fifth town that NHEC has connected to broadband internet via its subsidiary, NH Broadband. Fiber-optic networks built in Colebrook, Clarksville, Stewartstown and Lempster are online and serving NHEC members in locations where high-speed service options have been limited or non-existent. NHEC and NH Broadband will start service to the Town of Sandwich later this summer, and recently announced plans to expand into more than 30 Grafton County towns in the next 18 months.
“All the credit goes to you, the members,” said NHEC Board Chair Jeffrey Morrill, explaining that NHEC’s push for high-speed internet access began as a member-driven response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which exposed New Hampshire’s digital divide and made rural access to high-speed internet “an essential service.”
Gregg Thibodeau, an Acworth resident and Lead of the Acworth Broadband Committee, said that townspeople had been getting by with slow connections for years, but the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the need for faster service that could keep up with the new demand for bandwidth.
“On behalf of the several hundred anxious, internet customers in town, I can’t begin to tell you what high speed broadband service means to them,” Thibodeau said. “And even though COVID is abating, we are not likely to turn back the clock on the internet demand. More often folks are looking for jobs online, remote working opportunities, training, and schooling, which can be very time consuming and limited in our rural community.”
Thibodeau said high-speed internet is also helping his work on the Acworth Conservation Commission, as the group seeks to protect and conserve the town’s resources.
“We need access to online tools and data, such as GRANITView, ARCGIS, NH Fish & Game and DES studies and maps and UNH’s Cooperative Extension information. Accessing layers of maps for two or three properties in GRANITView was a two-to-four-hour exercise for me, now it takes minutes.”