With providers slow to bring in high-speed internet, Lyme residents footed the bill themselves

  • Hoyt and Marianne Alverson watch the news on their laptop with their dog Apple in the room on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Lyme, N.H. The Alversons' home was recently hooked up to high-speed internet with LymeFiber. ( Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 1/9/2021 10:47:30 PM
Modified: 1/9/2021 10:47:12 PM

LYME — Thanks to finally getting high-speed internet service connected to their house, Hoyt and Marianne Alverson last week were able to witness in real time one of the most wrenching events in recent American history: the violent storming of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump.

“There’s a sedition going on right this minute in Washington, and we’re able to watch it,” said Hoyt Alverson, a retired anthropology professor who lives on River Road, as the events unfolded on Wednesday afternoon.

Alverson’s house last month was one of the first homes in Lyme to be connected with LymeFiber, the high-speed internet provider that aims to reach all 760 premises in town.

The Alversons were watching live coverage via the websites of CNN and MSNBC while their sole television, which is connected to the satellite broadcaster DirecTV, was in another part of the house where their son and his wife are staying. Hoyt and Marianne said they didn’t want to “be in the way.”

But getting live news isn’t the only thing the Alversons can do now via their high-speed internet service. They can also watch movies on Netflix, join Zoom calls with their grandkids in Boston and Rhode Island, keep up with Lyme Selectboard meetings and consult with their doctors, none of which they could do reliably over the slower DSL lines of their previous provider, Consolidated Communications.

Moreover, their son and his wife, who are working remotely in the international nonprofit sector, no longer have to drive in the middle of the night to Bradford, Vt.’s Space on Main coworking space to have video calls with colleagues in Japan and Geneva.

“I can tell you, it’s been life-changing,” Marianne Alverson said of the high-speed service.

After several years in the works, LymeFiber switched on its first customer on Nov. 11 and to date has signed up 530 premises and connected 180 of them (“connected” means the line has been extended from the pole on the road to the residence or business).

By the time the network is built out — expected to be this spring — LymeFiber will have fiber-optic cables on 2,000 telephone poles across 63 miles of roads throughout Lyme.

LymeFiber is built and operated by ValleyNet, the nonprofit that runs ECFiber, the publicly financed consortium that provides high-speed internet and phone service to 22 towns in east-central Vermont. A small group of Lyme residents is funding the Lyme network, which cost about $2.5 milliion to build, said Carole Monroe, the former CEO of ValleyNet who has been overseeing the project.

“The distribution fiber is up and available and it’s been tested. The drops are on schedule to the homes. It’s ready to rock ’n’ roll,” Monroe said.

Well, mostly on schedule.

Last week the company that ValleyNet hired to install connections to the router inside homes notified ValleyNet that, due to COVID-19-related reasons and workforce demands, it had no technicians available for the scheduled installations. Monroe said ValleyNet would be deploying its own installers to resume appointments and make installations.

Lyme, with 826 households and a population of 1,852 residents, is like a Brigadoon of telecom: There is no cable TV — a common provider of internet service — and DSL slows down considerably the farther the user is from the signal’s origin and with the number of users on the network.

LymeFiber’s plan is to build the network beginning from the center of town and out to its outer extremities, said Steve Campbell, a retired Dartmouth College IT manager who was one of the Lyme residents leading the push to wire the town with a fiber-optic network.

The network is “envisioned to pass every household in town, with the only exception where people get their (internet service) from an adjoining town,” Campbell said. “We’re talking a handful of locations, not a lot.”

(For example, Comcast serves a cluster of homes on Route 10 near the border with Hanover.)

Although the Lyme investor group talked with Comcast and West Lebanon-based satellite provider WaveComm about ways to improve high-speed internet in Lyme, neither company saw it as economically viable given the town’s small and spread-out population.

But ValleyNet had the right skill set and track record and could execute the project at a reasonable cost, Campbell said.

“We saw what ValleyNet did with ECFiber and how successful they had been early on — and we had people willing to invest — plus they were right across the river,” he said.

Walter Swift, who lives on Pinnacle Road and is one the investors in LymeFiber LLC, the company that was funded by residents to get service up and running, said the pandemic brought the problem further into focus. Meager DSL speeds can’t handle households where parents are working from home and kids are doing schoolwork online.

Swift declined to say how many investors ponied up money or how much of their own money they kicked in, but he nonetheless said no one views their investment as a great money-making scheme.

“The people who invested in this thing will be lucky if they get anything back,” Swift said.

Instead, the backers realized the need to bring high-speed internet Lyme and the service it would provide residents, for whom the basic package of speeds of 25 Mbps (megabits per second) for downloading and uploading — enough for multiple users in the same household to stream video simultaneously — costs $72 per month.

“I personally didn’t need this,” said Swift, a retired engineer at Creare who said he is not a heavy internet user. “But my kids need it when they come visit.”

Stan Williams, CFO of ValleyNet, acknowledged that the payback from investing in LymeFiber is “kind of slow money,” although it should prove steady over the long haul, especially given the absence of competition.

“They know they are not going to make a fortune, but it’s a benefit for the community,” Williams said.

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.

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