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County undecided on upgrade for regional Internet

Network to meet services needs of Next Gen 911

Idaho County Courthouse

Photo by David Rauzi
Idaho County Courthouse

— Idaho County Commissioners heard a plan out of the Idaho Office of Emergency Management last week that calls for a massive interconnection of the fiber optic network in North Central Idaho – a pricey infrastructure project that would “meet the needs of emergency communications along with the advent of Next Generation 911” service.

Pricey, in that it would involve Idaho County agreeing to lay another fee on top of the $1 per line per month that phone companies already pass on to their customers. Next generation, in that the local Internet connectivity to the outside world and local 911 service technology would both take major leaps forward.

“Everyone has come up to the E911 Phase II level,” Craig Logan, 911 manager of the Idaho Public Safety Communications Commission said, “and now everyone in the state of Idaho is ready for the next step, which is Realtime Text-to-911.”

Last August, the Idaho Statesman reported at least eight counties in the state already have Text-to-911 service.

Counties statewide have collected a $1 per line per month fee for years, and all but four counties statewide collect an additional 25 cents per line per month fee, the IPSCC presenters told the commission: All except Ada, Bannock, Bonneville and Idaho counties.

“We’ll ponder it over,” commission chairman Skip Brandt told the presenters after they finished their presentation.

The men who last Tuesday, March 27, asked the local county commissioners to approve the 25 cent fee – former Gem County Commissioner Lan Smith, Logan (who called himself “the state 911 guy”), Travis Myklebust (of the Lewiston Fire Department and regional IPSCC representative) and self-described “geek in the crowd” Dave Taylor (who is 911 coordinator for Nez Perce County and City of Lewiston) – told the board they are proceeding on a three-year time frame to develop major new fiber optic connections in the region.

“What we’re proposing to do,” Taylor said, “is over the next year, do a study and determine what our costs would be to build out those sections that don’t exist, to interconnect, and work with a single company that we would purchase our service from, and they would take care of everybody else – the CenturyLinks, the Level 3s, the Frontiers. We would be paying a single fee, and if we build these out and take ownership, there’s a possibility of revenue sharing... The key to it, and this is the dovetail piece, is the grant fee funding…. and we will be applying for that grant whether Idaho County participates or not. We will build, and we will go through Idaho County. Your connectivity if we do that won’t be disallowed, but it will be way more expensive to come in later.”

Marked on a map the IPSCC men presented to the commission are proposed new fiber optic connections: Lewiston to Genesee, Craigmont to Nezperce, Kamiah to Grangeville along the river route (through Kooskia, Stites and Harpster) and along Highway 95 to parts south of the county line.

Taylor also said it will be much more expensive for counties to join the system after construction than to commit to helping fund the project.

“This year, we’ll know what the costs are going to be,” Taylor explained, “we’ll be working with a consultant to do that. The grant fund will not pay for consulting, so we’ll be requesting DIGB members to help with that. We should have a budgetary quote from that consultant within the next two months. The following year, we’ll apply for the grant. Then we’ll have two years to construct what’s not there and get [the dispatch centers] on the fiber network.”

How much it would cost to lay the new fiber optic lines is, for now, unknown.

The result would be a 140-pair fiber optic connection, of which 12 pair could be reserved for public safety, the rest of which the private service provider company could sell on for its business. Taylor called it a “100 gig fiber network…more bandwidth than we’ll use in my lifetime.”

“Once we have the fiber optic network built,” Taylor said, “we can start sharing resources.”

“Will this broadband buildout be such that, for example, the hospitals can subscribe to it and use it,” commissioner Denis Duman asked.

“Anything beyond that [the lines reserved for public safety], is what we work with our provider to light up for anybody who wants to use it,” Taylor said. “That’s their business. That’s what they do. But there’s potential for revenue sharing.”

Idaho County disaster manager Jerry Zumalt – the county’s point-man on DIGB 2 – introduced the presenters. DIGB 2 – the District 2 Interoperability Governance Board – provides input to the IPSCC from agencies and organizations in Clearwater, Latah, Lewis, Nez Perce and Idaho counties.

For county dispatch centers, the new system was said to cost an additional 15 cents per telephone number on the next generation lines. And, during the interim – until the existing lines are phased out – that new cost would be in addition to one of the main costs for the existing dispatch system, so the total would rise from 7 cents per telephone number to 22 cents per telephone number.

“For a period of time, you’re going to have to pay both,” Logan told the county commissioners, “until we go to pure geospatial routing. To make your telephone lines digital, the cost is going to double.”

Logan highlighted a potential cost savings – a reduction in “last mile” cost – that could help offset the new expense – a form of savings already realized in Lewis County – a benefit, the presenters said, of the Lewis County dispatch center’s reliance on technology located in Nez Perce County. “They have their own PSAP, but they don’t have their own back room,” Taylor said. “The service comes from Lewiston.”

“Lewis County had 15 miles of last-mile cost of that line fee they were being charged, and that shrunk down to one mile, because they’re feeding off the mileage rate that Nez Perce County pays,” Logan later explained. “That’s a benefit of sharing equipment, or what we can call consolidation – of equipment, not [the county dispatch center], not the [dispatch] personnel.”

Across Idaho, the 25 cents per line per month fee amounted to almost $2.1 million last year – and according to the IPSCC’s 2018 annual report to the state legislature, that money provided more than $1.5 million in grant funding for 911 center upgrades in 11 counties and the city of Twin Falls.

According to a consultant’s study included with the IPSCC’s annual report, the amount that would be collected in Idaho County – if the commission approves the 25 cent fee – would add up to roughly $40,000 per year.

In Idaho County, the emergency communications fund – which includes the $1 per line per month fee – covered a recent upgrade of the local dispatch center. The fund balance was nearly $526,000 as of Tuesday morning, April 3.

The written material presented March 27 stated “the need of the network to maintain and improve Public Safety Emergency Communications…outweighs the need of any one county thus the network will become reality, if not now, then in the near future.”

But whether or not Idaho County will commit to the local fee to help fund building the new system remained to be seen before the board’s regular meeting on Tuesday, April 3. During the meeting, the board hashed over aspects of the same issues, and took no action.

The board asked the clerk to put the same topic on the county commission agenda again April 17, which will follow a DIGB meeting April 13 in Grangeville.


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