Commentary

In Idaho, there are haves and have nots. Let’s take access to broadband seriously.

Most incorporated cities and counties are either underserved or unserved when it comes to internet access, writes guest columnist Christina Culver.

April 20, 2022 4:20 am
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The lack of broadband infrastructure is specifically an issue that puts Idaho at risk of falling behind the progress of other states, writes guest columnist Christina Culver. (Leonardo Fernandez Viloria/Getty Images)

People are moving to Idaho in record numbers, and I don’t blame them.

Who wouldn’t want to live in a place where outdoor recreation in pristine forests, mountains, rivers, and lakes is easily accessible? However, Idaho’s infrastructure is not up to speed to handle the influx of the population we are experiencing. The lack of broadband infrastructure is specifically an issue that puts Idaho at risk of falling behind the progress of other states.

That’s why we created Imagine Idaho Foundation.  

Imagine Idaho Foundation’s mission is to bring broadband infrastructure to rural Idaho so people can live anywhere and still have access to education, health care and more. Most incorporated cities and counties are either underserved or unserved when it comes to broadband.

Idaho could receive hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding for broadband infrastructure directed to local cities and counties. However, many counties and communities do not have the resources or knowledge to carry out broadband projects.

The Federal Communications Commission mapping methods drastically overstate coverage around the country. Comparing BroadbandNow and FCC data from 2021, Politico Tech Reporter John Hendel reported that the FCC underestimated the number of Idahoans without internet access by 260,000.

Getting accurate data through precise mapping will empower communities to go after the dollars they deserve. That’s where Imagine Idaho Foundation comes in.  

Our work comes at no cost to the communities we help. We assist with community engagement plans, one-time grants, speed-testing, pre-engineering studies, cost analysis, determining well-designed plans for coverage, and preparing winning grant applications to the state of Idaho.

Our current projects include Benewah, Camas, Latah, Owyhee, Shoshone, Teton and Valley counties. We are working with the city of McCall and the Port of Lewiston and looking to expand to more counties soon.

Five of our current projects are taking part in an internet speed-test crowdsourcing campaign that starts this month to assess broadband availability in those areas. The system we are using will collect information down to the household to provide a more accurate picture of what is happening.

Other mapping systems collect information using census block information that may not represent all residents in that area. This data will allow these counties to utilize funds effectively for their infrastructure buildouts. It will inform the federal government about our lack of connectivity and help us qualify for more infrastructure resources for Idahoans. We are looking forward to seeing results during this exciting time.  

As a nonprofit, Imagine Idaho Foundation relies on support from like-minded organizations to continue our work. We have formed a coalition of industry leaders, economic development associations, counties, municipalities, associations, and more to help spread our message. The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation, Regence BlueShield of Idaho, Innovia Foundation and the Idaho Association of Counties are just a few of our dedicated coalition members. Visit www.imagineidaho.org to learn more about our organization, or email [email protected].  

  

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Christina Culver
Christina Culver

Christina Erland Culver is co-founder and board member of Imagine Idaho Foundation, a statewide campaign for broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved communities. She is a nationally recognized leader in U.S. domestic policy, regulatory and strategic advisory services focused on unserved and underserved communities in the Mountain West and rural areas of America.

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