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Rural Idaho Alliance Works to Boost High-Speed Internet

The newly formed Latah County Broadband Coalition in Idaho hopes that even residents who live in the most remote areas of the county will have access to high-speed Internet in the future.

Idaho State Line
(TNS) — The newly formed Latah County Broadband Coalition hopes that even residents living in the most remote areas of the county will have access to high-speed internet in the future.

Members of the coalition met Tuesday afternoon in Potlatch City Hall to discuss broadband infrastructure funding with Eric Forsch, broadband development manager for the Idaho Department of Commerce.

Members of the coalition include Potlatch, Bovill, Genesee, Kendrick, Juliaetta, Troy, Moscow, Latah County Library District, local school districts, University of Idaho, Gritman Medical Center and District 5 Sen. David Nelson.

Forsch outlined the grant possibilities that are funded by millions of dollars from the federal and Idaho governments.

"The goal is to encourage communities to build as much fiber (optics) as they can," Forsch said of the available grant opportunities.

Members of the coalition expressed concerns that the government and internet service providers may balk at bringing broadband infrastructure to the most rural areas of the county, where people typically lack high-speed internet.

"How do I get some of the smaller projects funded when the carrier, the ISPs in the area, don't want to build in those areas because there's no return on investment?" asked Dan Smith, technology director for the Kendrick Joint School District.

Forsch said the goal of the grant funds is to make it attractive for ISPs to build infrastructure in those neglected areas. He said the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which administers federal broadband funding, wants to see individual homes being hooked up to broadband internet without seeing those costs passed on to the customer.

Latah County grants manager Christina Mangiapani said grants require that ISPs start with the unserved populations first, and not with the customers that are easiest to connect.

According to the Latah County Broadband Coalition's website, 20% of households in rural Latah County have no internet access at all, and the rest have service at levels less than 10 megabits per second download speed and 3 megabits per second upload speed. These homes are considered unserved.

Latah County Commissioner Kathie LaFortune said she wants to see a "spider web" of broadband infrastructure reaching remote households. She brought up the area between Potlatch and Viola as an example.

"It's a deep canyon," she said. "Hardly anybody out there is served. There's teachers out there, there's students out there, and it's growing rapidly all the time. There should be fiber along there and then let the internet service providers compete for who's going to hook up those final homes that are along that corridor."

Forsch said the coalition must first develop a good understanding of how many people are connected to broadband. In the coming months, the coalition will be launching a speed test campaign to gather data on broadband availability in the county as well as to strengthen grant applications.

The coalition also intends to use a broadband utility assessment report to plan construction that will allow minimum speeds of 100/20 and 100/100 mbps for households and 1/1 gbps for schools.

© 2022 the Moscow-Pullman Daily News (Moscow, Idaho). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.