The new 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.
Coalition members met Tuesday afternoon at Potlatch City Hall to discuss broadband infrastructure funding with Eric Forsch, broadband development manager for the Idaho Department of Commerce.
Coalition members include Potlatch, Bovill, Genesee, Kendrick, Juliaetta, Troy, Moscow, Latah County Library District, local school districts, University of Idaho, Gritman Medical Center, and Senator of District 5 David Nelson.
Forsch described grant opportunities funded by millions of dollars from the federal and Idaho governments.
“The goal is to encourage communities to build as much (optical) fiber as possible,” Forsch said of the grant opportunities available.
Coalition members have expressed concern that the government and internet service providers may be reluctant to bring broadband infrastructure to the more rural areas of the county, where people typically lack high-speed internet. .
“How can I get some of the small projects funded when the operator, the ISPs in the area, don’t want to build in those areas because there’s no return on investment?” asked Dan Smith, director of technology 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 these neglected areas. He said the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which administers federal broadband funding, wants individual homes to be connected to high-speed Internet without having those costs passed on to the customer.
Latah County Grants Manager Christina Mangiapani said the grants require ISPs to start with unserved populations, not the easiest-to-connect customers.
According to the Latah County Broadband Coalition website, 20% of households in rural Latah County have no internet access, and the rest have service at levels below 10 megabits per second download speed and 3 megabits per second. per second download speed. These residences are considered unserved.
Latah County Commissioner Kathie LaFortune said she wants to see a “spider’s web” of broadband infrastructure reaching remote homes. She cited the region between Potlatch and Viola as an example.
“It’s a deep canyon,” she said. “Hardly anyone is served. There are teachers there, there are students there, and it’s growing rapidly all the time. There should be fiber there, and then let the internet service providers fight over who’s going to hook up those last 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 launch a speed test campaign to gather data on broadband availability in the county as well as bolster grant applications.
The coalition also intends to use a broadband 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.