Guest Opinion

Insufficient broadband in rural Idaho is putting our students, businesses, and communities at a significant disadvantage. I am working hard to get more of this essential to the people living outside the major metro areas. Our government needs to work with businesses to take sound economic action now for the sake of Idaho’s small towns.

I am a part of the new Idaho Broadband Task Force. The Task Force includes legislators, Internet providers, universities, tribes and others. We’re working on improving connectivity and Internet infrastructure across the state, but it’s especially important that we improve rural Idaho’s connectivity. We will provide a final report to the governor in November proposing action for the next legislative session in 2020, if that’s what is required.

We are living in the information age. Broadband is as critical to a community now, as the railroad was in the late 1800s, or rural electrification in the mid-1900s. If communities don’t have reliable and fast Internet access, they are cut off from the rest of the state and the rest of the world. Without this resource, people will have little choice but to move to bigger cities where they can get connected, leaving our rural communities to shrink and become even more isolated.

For those who live in cities, you may not know that rural students, ranchers, timber operators, and farmers are constantly battling slow Internet service and coverage gaps. For instance, one of the schools in my district got free Chromebooks. Everyone was excited, until they realized their Internet access was so slow, they couldn’t use them all at once and now have to take turns. That’s just one example of people around here getting saddled with a competitive disadvantage because of where they live. Businesses often can’t communicate with consumers, students can’t do their homework, and rural safety is compromised. How long until they all get fed up and move out? We’re already seeing young people avoiding our communities because of the digital isolation. We’re missing out on economic opportunities, and our population is aging.

We need immediate action, but the government will not and should not fix this on its own. Through business incentives and partnerships, we can save your tax dollars while greatly improving Idaho’s rural broadband infrastructure. While this task is critical, the last thing we need to do is be irresponsible with your money.

Broadband Internet access is critical to education, commerce, and a high quality of life. But, in rural Idaho, our connective infrastructure is lagging behind and it’s putting businesses and students at a tremendous disadvantage. Broadband is not the future, it’s the present, and rural Idaho is stuck in the past whether we like it or not! We need to improve our connectivity now, and put all of Idaho on a level playing field. If we don’t, our small towns might not have much of a future.

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