Gov. Little planning broadband task force

Sharon Fisher//February 6, 2019

Gov. Little planning broadband task force

Sharon Fisher//February 6, 2019

photo of emmett fiber optic trench
In Emmett, fiber optic cable is installed whenever the streets are dug up. Photo courtesy of city of Emmett.

Gov. Brad Little is forming a task force to improve broadband internet access in Idaho, a goal he set out in the State of the State speech.

“The new administration is beginning work on this important issue,” said Marissa Morrison, press secretary. “The first step will be to develop a task force or working group to best determine how to proceed.”

While major metropolitan areas in Idaho, such as Boise, have some degree of high-speed internet service, some rural areas don’t have it at all, or have it at a high price. Regions ranging from McCall to Ammon to Northern Idaho have been taking the matter into their own hands.

photo of dylan baker
Dylan Baker

Citing the annual 2018 Speedtest U.S. Fixed Broadband Performance Report by Ookla, released on Dec. 12 for Q2-Q3 2018, “Idaho ranked 47th out of the 50 states for mean download speeds (with Montana, Wyoming, and Maine trailing behind us),” said Dylan Baker, broadband consultant for the Idaho Commission for Libraries, in Boise.

photo of brad little
Brad Little

That perception hurts Idaho, Little has been telling business audiences.

“I constantly hear how the absence of adequate broadband infrastructure is a deterrent to growth and economic development,” Little said during the State of the State. “To ensure Idaho can adapt to the rapidly evolving digital world, we must actively work to improve Idaho’s broadband access, pursuing all options to increase broadband connectivity. I will work with the Legislature to ensure both rural and urban Idaho are connected and well positioned to attract and create maximum success.”

Part of the challenge is, first, figuring out just what sort of broadband access Idaho has. Available state maps date from 2014, when Idaho received a federal grant to map broadband access. In addition, the Federal Communications Commission announced in December that it would be investigating violations of rules that are leading to incorrect maps nationwide.

Little has indicated in a couple of venues that the Department of Commerce has been researching the issue, but a spokeswoman said the department wasn’t ready to talk about it yet.

“We’re still working with Gov. Little’s office on a proposal for the department’s ideas, and it’s premature to comment on anything,” said Taylor Walker, public information specialist for the department. “At this time, there is not a formal analysis document to be published or shared.”

Wyoming governor Mark Gordon also pledged in his State of the State to improve broadband access.