Beyond schools, lawmakers on the Legislature’s broadband access study committee are calling for the state Department of Commerce to take the lead on accelerating broadband access in Idaho. House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said, “Commerce seems to me to be the right place. It’s not really education. Administration deals with (the) state. … If you look at access to current telecommunications infrastructure, we’re behind, and other states are making an effort. It is one of the detractors on business development.” Rusche moved to recommend “the development of a broadband advocacy capacity within the Department of Commerce,” and Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.
Rusche said the effort should “incent the development of infrastructure, but also lower the cost.” Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, said, “I think it does have a nexus with commerce in the state of Idaho.”
Nonini said broadband access is key to economic development in North Idaho and elsewhere. “It’s very hard to do economic development because of the lack of high-speed broadband connectivity, and I know that a lot of the state is like that,” he said. Nonini said he hopes the state’s next commerce director, who is yet to be named to succeed outgoing Director Jeff Sayer, can “give us some ideas,” and those could form the agenda for “phase two of this committee.” The first phase, he said, was appropriately education, which Nonini called the biggest and most pressing concern.