Thursday, October 30, 2014
What's New in the New West
Home » Rockies » Idaho » Boise » Rural Idahoans Can’t Read This — But Oregonians, Washingtonians Can
Some rural Idahoans are still being told that they can't have access to high-speed, broadband Internet that would give them access to features such as video. Exactly how many don't have it who want it is unclear, but it could be up to 10% of the population. While Jim Schmit, President of Idaho Operations for Qwest, told attendees of the Emerging Directions in Economic Development conference in Boise on Friday that "virtually all" Idahoans had such access, about a quarter of the economic development professionals attending indicated that they represented a community that didn't have it yet, and most of the questions related to how their communities could get the access they'd been told wasn't available. Meanwhile, in rural Oregon and Washington, communities are using high-speed Internet access to attract new business and improve public safety.

Rural Idahoans Can’t Read This — But Oregonians, Washingtonians Can

Some rural Idahoans are still being told that they can’t have access to high-speed, broadband Internet that would give them access to features such as video.

Exactly how many don’t have it who want it is unclear, but it could be up to 10% of the population. While Jim Schmit, President of Idaho Operations for Qwest, told attendees of the Emerging Directions in Economic Development conference in Boise on Friday that “virtually all” Idahoans had such access, about a quarter of the economic development professionals attending indicated that they represented a community that didn’t have it yet, and most of the questions related to how their communities could get the access they’d been told wasn’t available.

Meanwhile, in rural Oregon and Washington, communities are using high-speed Internet access to attract new business and improve public safety.

In Washington, the Legislature passed in 2000 a law that allowed Public Utility Districts to deliver wholesale broadband Internet to retail providers. Grant County, a rural area in the center of the state, invested $40 million in broadband infrastructure, said Thomas Jones, vice president of 180 Connect Inc., a Toronto, Canada, provider of technical support services who spoke at the broadband infrastructure panel.

Between broadband access and the cheap power provided by the Grand Coulee Dam, the area has been able to attract installations from vendors such as Microsoft and Google, Jones said. “None of these are in Idaho, and I think there’s a reason why,” he said.

For example, the Gorge amphitheater — in addition to being supplied with breathtaking views and popular music — also has broadband Internet, and the House of Blues, which owns the facility, has considered using the facility as a backup to its Los Angeles offices in the case of a natural disaster.

In fact, this year the Washington Legislature is considering a pilot program to enable the public utility districts to provide broadband Internet services on a retail basis as well as wholesale.

Similarly, though Tom Pickren of Tropos Networks said during the panel that a technology called WiMAX is not yet available, it is already being used over a 700-mile area in eastern Oregon.

WiMAX is similar to the wifi technology that is currently widely used, but is based upon cellular phone communication methods, which means it has a much broader range than wifi — up to 30 miles — and it is being looked at as a means to provide broadband Internet to rural America.

Much of the cost of the eastern Oregon WiMAX network was funded by the Department of Homeland Security, to protect chemical weapons located in the area.

A lack of broadband Internet not only limits the economic development of rural Idaho, but limits public education as well. During the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee hearings on public education, state superintendent of instruction Tom Luna indicated that his department was considering providing students with electronic textbooks, which are both cheaper than published textbooks and can be more easily updated. Consequently, children who live in areas without broadband Internet could end up being limited to published textbooks, Representative Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene and chairman of the House Education Committee, told JFAC.

This could raise the spectre of a two-tiered educational system, leaving rural Idahoans even further behind. “A school with dialup is a school that is disconnected from the infrastructure they need to survive,” said Senator Eliot Werk, D-Boise, during JFAC hearings.

Meanwhile, some rural economic development professionals reported that they had trouble getting cooperation from incumbent telephone and Internet companies — while such a company might not find it financially feasible to supply an area with broadband Internet, at the same time it doesn’t want to free the community to find solutions elsewhere.

On the other hand, it could be worse. One presenter noted that four states completely prohibited any municipality from participating in a broadband initiative. “Fortunately, Idaho isn’t one of them,” he noted.

At least, not yet.

About Sharon Fisher

Comments

  1. Sharon Fisher says:

    This story is more than three paragraphs long. :) It’s a bug — in the meantime, click ‘print story’ to see all of it.

  2. Problem fixed. Apologies.

  3. Sharon Fisher says:

    Happens. Just wanted to make sure that anybody who bopped in here on a Sunday night could read it all — and I’m very impressed by how quickly you fixed it! thanks!

  4. bernard says:

    Yet another example (community colleges, easing traffice congestion in the Treasure Valley are others) showing how the Idaho Legislature and the elected leaders in Idaho are unprepared to move this state into the future.

  5. sharon fisher says:

    It really is strange, isn’t it? I honestly don’t understand what people are thinking.

    And it’s not just the legislature; it’s Governor Otter as well. Governor Risch encouraged the Department of Commerce to come in with an aggressive budget to take care of some of these problems, and Otter shot it all down — seemingly using as his excuse the fact that the departments are going to be split and he wants Commerce to focus on that this year. But in the meantime, Idaho just keeps getting further behind.

    It’s odd when Otter has made this big deal out of promoting himself as being a businessman and how he was involved in the formation of Commerce in the first place.

  6. Hyrum says:

    Why are people so surprised about rural culture of Idaho? People move here (Idaho) or stay here, primary because they don’t want to be around a lot of people, people that don’t want to be around people create very little, other than art. Boise, is not really Idaho. It is an island in the sea of rural, utlra conservative republican communites. In which the central and eastern 3/4 is LDS influenced. Nothing against LDS, but just the reality.

    Broadband is not some magic bullet for the small ag county I live in. They could care less about “new comers” populating and gentrifying their misanthropic paradise.

    Why waste the money, if high school grads can find a way out of rural Idaho, they do. Most I have known are in CA, WA, or OR. Our best export are our smart kid!

  7. Julie in Boise says:

    Good story, Sharon. I’ve caught it a bit late, but I am putting a blurb at RSR.

    Hyrum, I heard recently that 85% of Idahoans now live in urban areas. Boise and the Treasure Valley account for about half of that, then I guess the smaller cities make up about 35% (though yes, it is a bit of a stretch to call the smaller cities “urban”).

    Unfortunately, you are right that our kids are among our top exports.

  8. Sharon Fisher says:

    thanks, Julie!

    Hyrum, it’s the people *in* the rural areas who are asking for broadband, and the people in the urban areas who are refusing to provide it for them.

  9. bikeboy says:

    Sharon says, “it’s the people in the rural areas who are asking for broadband, and the people in the urban areas who are refusing to provide it for them.”

    Strangely ironic, following the recent Legislative decision to not let Treasure Valley voters decide if they want a transit tax. (In that case, it’s the people in urban areas who are asking for transit – or at least the opportunity to vote on it – and the legislators from rural areas who are refusing to let them vote.)

    Has broadband attained “entitlement” status? There are NUMEROUS “perks of civilization” that people in more outlying areas do without. Seems to me, once demand is sufficient, broadband will be provided by private-sector entrepeneurs. It may be awhile before it arrives in Headquarters, or Stibnite, or Elk City.

  10. Sharon Fisher says:

    Yeah, well, don’t get me started on the local options tax. :)

    When it gets to the point that childrens’ education is predicated on broadband being available, yes, I believe it’s attained entitlement status.

    As far as being provided by private-sector entrepreneurs, as the article points out, some rural areas are reporting that incumbent phone companies say it’s not economically feasible to provide it, yet set up roadblocks toward other providers.

    Even in areas where it’s not economically feasible, there’s certainly precedent for the government to help provide such functions — most notably the Rural Electrification Act of 1936.

  11. Sharon Fisher says:

    The other thing to keep in mind is that in neighboring states such as Oregon and Washington, the government *does* think that providing broadband Internet to such areas is a high priority — giving those areas vastly improved economic opportunities that rural Idaho communities are not able to take advantage of.

  12. Hyrum says:

    Very interesting posts. Good to hear other Idahoan’s point of view.

    A large section of southern Idaho, “Magic Valley” is some what like Appalachia, West Virginia and such. Underlying economy is rural agricultural with new power player, the dairies, with 350,000 cows in Gooding, Jerome, and Twin Falls Counties. Education is not a priority item in many of these county school districts. For example many citizens of Gooding county, population 10K, with 4 blighted towns of Hagerman, Bliss, Wendell, and Gooding, would not pay for broadband in any significant number.

    I know because I tried to get a critical mass of people to push for broadband in Gooding county. Most of the population is lower class retired or low pay ag workers. Broadband infrustructure to be paid for by a government would be a waste of money.

    I think state resources should be spent with the best return on investment. “Casting pearls amongst swine”, (to borrow a phrase) is not a good use of resources. Or as the farmer says, “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”

  13. Sharon Fisher says:

    Well, that’s pretty much what Qwest says — that of the people who don’t have broadband Internet, most of them don’t want it. And it may be true. On the other hand, there’s definitely people in those areas who *do* want it — and particularly in the case of the kids, are we going to cut off the kids because the parents can’t or won’t pay for it?

    Gooding is an especially ironic example because one of the reasons given for keeping the deaf and blind school open there is that the region is so dependent on it as an employer.

  14. bikeboy says:

    Sharon, your socialism is shining through!

    “Are we going to cut off the kids because the parents can’t or won’t pay for it?”

    You can’t continually burden the productive (taxpayers) with additional load. Sure – it would be FANTASTIC if every person in Idaho had broadband… and healthcare coverage, and a well-balanced diet, and heat in the winter and cool in the summer, and shoes that fit, and nice clothes to wear, and high-definition TV. But what would it cost for such a Utopian vision?

    If Idaho decided to go to “computerized electronic textbooks” (which seems rather far-fetched, considering the makeup of the Idaho Legislature, but possible, I s’pose), surely those “books” would be available as PDFs or Word documents, or some other flavor besides real-time broadband.

    Like Hyrum, I believe you’re a little ahead of the curve.

  15. Sharon Fisher says:

    Yes, Idaho is planning to go to computerized electronic textbooks. It came up both during the budget hearing and budget setting for public education. And yes, they need to be downloaded, which is pretty difficult to do for a classroom without broadband.

  16. Jill Kuraitis says:

    bikeboy, I get your point, but aren’t health care, good food, basic heating and cooling, shoes that fit (or just shoes) different than nice clothes, high-def TV, etc? Shoes and food and health care aren’t Utopian; they’re basic.

    I maintain that families need broadband far more than they need television. We think nothing of making sure that all rural areas have the best possible access to TV broadcasting and cable, but for some reason broadband is thought to be unnecesssary. A family can do without South Park and the Simpsons and make it, but without an internet connection, any family, anywhere, is at a disadvantage. Even if some rural folks don’t yet realize it (and I give them more credit than that; I think most have at least some understanding of the importance of the internet) connection to the rest of the world and the educational possibilities should certainly trump having access to sitcoms and other TV drivel. Not to mention that you can get most TV by broadband anyway.
    Just my opinion.