With Large Underserved Areas, Idaho Seeks to Establish Statewide Educational Network

August 8 – The state of Idaho took a step toward a broadband strategy with the March 2008 passage of H. 543, a bill that establishes a statewide broadband network.

Broadband Census Idaho

By William G. Korver, Reporter, BroadbandCensus.com

Editor’s Notes: This story and headline have been modified since publication. The previous headline was: “With Large Underserved Areas, Idaho May Soon Deploy 300 Megabit System.” (8/9)

This is the fifth of a series of articles surveying the state of broadband, and of broadband data, within each of the United States. Among the next profiles: Alaska, Hawaii and North Carolina. (8/8)

August 8 – The state of Idaho took a step toward a broadband strategy with the March 2008 passage of H. 543, a bill that establishes a statewide broadband network.

The Idaho network will be similar to the Utah Education Network, and hence used primarily for educational purposes. Still, the network would also aid both industry and government, wrote Sharon Fisher of NewWest.net, an online media company.

The bill seems to rebuff provider Qwest Communications‘ assurances that the majority of people residing in Idaho and desiring high-speed internet access already have it, wrote Fisher.

Mark Reed, who manages a fiber-optic network for the city of Idaho Falls, said there remain some rural areas in the state that have merely one broadband provider. The network connects all city sites and has also built out fiber-to-the-premise capabilities that are leased to commercial areas.

In an interview, he said that Idaho “can do better” than it currently is doing on broadband.

Fiber builds could be enhanced under H. 543. The text of the law calls for the state to “[c]oordinate the  development,  outsourcing  and  implementation  of  a statewide  network  for  education,  which  shall  include  high-bandwidth connectivity, two-way interactive video and internet access, using primarily fiber optic and other high-bandwidth transmission media.”

Syringa Networks, which is made up of 12 Idaho independent local exchange carriers, has also created state-wide fiber-optic network in Idaho.

Reed said he had recently met with executives from Syringa and Verizon Communications to discuss a joint project that would bring speeds in the range of 300 megabits per second (Mbps) to 400 Mbps to every home and business.

However, Steve Maloney, general manager of the Boise-based Syringa Networks, said that he was “not aware” of any new joint project involving Verizon. Maloney also said that Boise had discussed Wi-Fi networks in the past, but not recently.

Also, DigitalBridge Communications, a telecommunications service provider focused on using the high-powered wireless WiMAX technology to deliver broadband services to underserved communities nationwide, recently announced what it called the first commercially available Mobile WiMAX network.

The speeds of WiMAX are considerably slower than fiber-optics; however, in a press release, Digital Bridge  said that service will be “fast enough to allow full-motion video, voice, and data communications from anywhere in the area.”

Also in March of 2008, Rep. Dennis Lake of Blackfoot introduced an withdrew House bill No. 662. The bill would have removed a tax exemption to the companies that provide broadband Internet.

Reed said there is no other pending legislation regarding broadband in Idaho.

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