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Tax-credit bill would try to encourage broadband extensions into unserved parts of rural Idaho

Five to 10 percent of Idaho has no broadband services available, Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, told the House Revenue & Taxation Committee this morning, and it’s mostly the remote parts of rural Idaho. He compared the situation to the days when the federal Rural Electrification Administration helped bring electrical service to rural parts of the nation. “The economy of our rural areas, the agriculture industry and others, was just enhanced immeasurably,” Eskridge said. “It increased the economic vitality of our state. I see the same thing, the same kind of correlation with broadband.”

Eskridge and Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, who co-chair the interim committee on energy and technology, are co-sponsoring legislation designed to get at that issue through a complicated tax credit mechanism. Under the plan, customers in an unserved area, whether they’re residents or businesses, could join together and make a “contribution in aid of construction,” to offset the costs of extending the service to their area. Then, those customers could get a state income tax credit for that contribution, taking 20 percent of it per year over five years, with a cap of $10,000 for an individual or $50,000 for a business.

“The barrier to rural broadbrand service, of course, is cost,” Eskridge said. “There are not enough customers per mile … to make it worthwhile from a return on investment standpoint for broadband providers.” The bill, he said, is designed to close part of that gap.

Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, said, “I think probably I’m a poster child for this bill. I’ve tried for years to get broadband at my home. I had a dial-up that occasionally I could use, it’d kick me off. … It was so slow that it was ridiculous. But CenturyLink, my telephone provider, had that service within a mile of my house. I could not get it.  … I would’ve been glad to have gathered my neighbors around and offered to help just move that service a mile.” She moved to introduce the bill, and the motion passed, clearing the way for a full hearing.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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