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Fri., Sept. 20, 2013

Outside view: Idaho must invest in high-speed Internet

This commentary from the Moscow-Pullman Daily News does not necessarily reflect the view of The Spokesman-Review’s editorial board.

Remember that obnoxious noise we were all forced to listen to as our modem established a connection with the Internet?

It was the good old days of dial-up, and fortunately, most of us haven’t been subjected to the screeching in years; that’s unless you live in many areas of rural Idaho, where it’s simply a fact of life if you want access to the World Wide Web.

An official with the LinkIdaho project, a statewide initiative to promote the availability and sustainable adoption of broadband Internet access, told the Idaho Legislature’s interim Committee on Energy, Environment and Technology on Sept. 13 that rural North Idaho, or Region I, which includes Benewah, Bonner, Boundary, Kootenai and Shoshone counties, is the worst-served region of the state when it comes to broadband Internet service. Region 2, which is made up of Latah, Clearwater, Idaho, Lewis and Nez Perce counties, isn’t far ahead.

According to a survey and report by the organization, 22 percent of people living in Region I have either no Internet connection or dial-up service while that number is at 16 percent in Region 2. Statewide, it’s 13 percent.

The organization says that creates barriers to attracting companies, delivering education, health care and other services to the region.

Getting Idaho up to standard won’t be cheap. Bill Gillis, a Spokane consultant to the LinkIdaho project, told the legislative panel the cost to connect every Idaho household to broadband service at current standards would be $173 million for construction, plus $41 million a year for operations.

Currently, the state is taking a back-seat approach, leaving connecting Idaho to the private sector, which may never see enough profits in extending services to places such as Bovill to make it worthwhile. That’s where the state will need to step in and invest in the infrastructure.

Making high-speed Internet available to every household in the state will be an expensive undertaking, but it will be well worth the investment and provide a foundation for Idaho to remain competitive with the rest of the nation.

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