Rural N. Idaho pegged as having worst Internet

BOISE, Idaho — The coordinator of a program intended to boost high-speed Internet access across the state says rural northern Idaho is the worst-served part of the state for broadband service.

Mike Field of the LinkIdaho project told the Idaho Legislature’s interim committee on energy, environment and technology on Friday that inadequate access makes it harder to attract companies as well as deliver education and health care.

“Where we’re struggling probably the most is in the Panhandle,” he told the committee, the Spokesman Review reported.

He said urban areas appear to have plenty of providers with competitive prices.

“We do see a problem once we get outside our smaller rural communities,” he said. “You get past 3 miles, then it gets pretty iffy.”

The LinkIdaho project recently found that 88 percent of business in Shoshone County said an Internet connection was critical. However, 62 percent said what they currently had was inadequate. About 72 percent of Shoshone County residents said their Internet service was inadequate.

“There is a connection between broadband and prosperity,” said Vince Rinaldi, executive director of the Silver Valley Economic Development Corp. “There is a correlation. We want to be part of that.”

The LinkIdaho project is planning a “broadband summit” on Oct. 22 in Boise. Sessions include broadband as an economic tool, and the good and bad of cities becoming broadband providers.

A Spokane consultant to the LinkIdaho project, Bill Gillis, said that it would cost $173 million for construction and $41 million a year to connect every Idaho household to broadband service.

“It’s not inexpensive, but remember, your providers are investing in Idaho all the time,” he said.

Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, co-chairman of the Idaho Legislature’s interim committee, said he wants the state to do more to improve broadband service.

“Obviously, broadband capability and access is a big issue in our district in terms of economic development,” he said, “and I see this as a big issue for the whole state.”

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Information from: The Spokesman-Review, http://www.spokesman.com

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