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Reliable Broadband will Increase Economic, Education, and Telehealth Benefits

By Christine Frei

When it comes to the topic of broadband, most of us recognize that broadband connectivity is a foundation for economic growth, job creation, global competitiveness, and a better way of life. However, what many don’t recognize, is that internet connectivity in Idaho is fairly spread out, with many rural areas having inadequate to non-existent internet connection. If we don’t address Idaho’s digital divide now, the risk becomes that there will be a generation of children and adults in underserved, rural communities who will be left behind in the digital age of innovation.

Rural communities are already under tremendous economic pressure and broadband infrastructure is imperative now and even more in the immediate future. A number of these underserved communities recognize there are broadband issues but don’t have a complete understanding of its root cause or have the resources to create and maneuver through a plan of action. They receive conflicting messages between what the internet service provider in their area is telling them versus what their experience is with little or no connectivity. In the northern region and many other rural areas, one of the top challenges for attracting broadband investment is the lack of infrastructure planning and the supports to build a plan. For many of these smaller communities, the various aspects of broadband planning, the cost of broadband infrastructure, and applying for federal grants are overwhelming.

If we want to see broadband initiatives move forward, we need strong leaders that become the voice and support for rural communities or regions to participate in broadband planning. Since the initiation of the Governor’s Broadband Taskforce, the Clearwater Economic Development Association and its other economic regional counterparts have been working on long-range planning, engineering design, capacity building, and grant proposals for rural Idaho communities to build and modernize their broadband infrastructure. This is not a project that can be done centrally at the state level – it requires community leadership and local input coupled with engineering expertise. This is how we have supported dozens of plans that are underway in our region. Our goal is to help as many communities as possible with capacity building and supports.

Up until this point, there has not been sufficient collective voice in all sectors to back the need for connecting communities, remove barriers to building infrastructure, and making a strong case that we can’t wait any longer for the broadband fix. Understanding these underlining issues, a group of leading Idaho community and civic leaders joined together in an effort called Imagine Idaho. These leaders recognize Idaho’s broadband challenges and are committed to serving Idaho communities and citizens by helping promote policies that help their ability to deploy broadband-communications infrastructure in a pro-competitive way and provide the necessary support for capacity building by networking regional experts to locals who need help.

Imagine Idaho recognizes that every community needs a comprehensive plan to improve broadband access. They have coalesced a voice for broadband and are working closely with the Governor, the state legislature, the federal delegation, city staff, business and community organizations, nonprofits, education leaders, and universities. Through the Imagine Idaho coalition of leaders, we are all dedicated to ensuring that every Idahoan has access to reliable broadband that will increase economic benefits, educational benefits, telemedicine benefits, stimulate innovation and unlock limitless possibilities for all Idaho communities and citizens.

Christine Frei
Executive Director
Clearwater Economic Development Association