Idaho broadband group urges state to expand rural service

Posted at 2:14 AM, Nov 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-26 04:14:29-05

LEWISTON, Idaho — An Idaho government study group concluded that expanding access to broadband service in rural areas should be a top priority for the state, officials said.

Republican Gov. Brad Little created the broadband task force by executive order earlier this year and backed its findings, The Lewiston Tribune reported.

Little and the task force agreed broadband is as fundamental to healthy community economies as water, electricity and roads.

“In a data-driven society, connectivity is imperative for a vital economy,” Little said in a statement. “Improved broadband infrastructure ensures both urban and rural Idaho will be connected and well-positioned to attract business and enhance our citizens’ quality of life.”

The study defined broadband service as internet download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second and upload speeds of at least 3 Mbps.

The 39-member group encouraged the state to focus on a broadband pilot project in north central Idaho, which it identifies as the largest underserved area in the state.

Less than 35% of households have broadband access in the region that includes Clearwater, Idaho and Lewis counties, along with Benewah County in the north and Adams County in the south. By comparison, more than 75% of households have broadband in Latah and Nez Perce counties, the analysis found.

The report concluded Idaho’s urban areas, public universities and the Idaho National Laboratories are well-served by broadband service.

The group recommended updating the state broadband plan and forming a broadband office to avoid missing out on millions of dollars in federal broadband grants and loans.

Other recommendations include formalizing policies to encourage trench installation and broadband infrastructure during road construction, creating a consumer tax deduction for broadband fees and ensuring broadband easements in state right-of-way purchase agreements.