Improving internet connectivity is an ongoing work in progress for Idaho, where much of the state, including north-central Idaho, not only lacks access but also lacks speed to enable many residential and commercial uses. CEDA (Clearwater Economic Development Association) seeks federal grants to fund local projects to improve and expand access. For this, it is essential that the public participate in a participatory broadband speed project.
Residents are being asked to take a speed test on their PC or laptop, the results of which organizers hope will demonstrate that Idaho’s needs are greater than the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) currently estimates, and will in turn bring in many more dollars.
“Idaho is looking to get at least $100 million,” said Tucker Craig of the Imagine Idaho Foundation, a nonprofit organization working with CEDA and other state entities to bring broadband infrastructure to the city. ‘State, and which also performs the online speed test. “But if we can prove that our needs are greater than what the FCC says, then we can get more money, and we’ve calculated what that looks like and it’s over a billion dollars.”
Organizers are looking to wrap up their speed data collection tests by September 15 and forward the grant application to the state to submit to compete for a $42.5 billion portion by the through the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program, which seeks to expand broadband Internet access in the United States by funding planning, infrastructure deployment, and adoption programs.
“It’s a lot of money,” Tucker continued, “and that’s why it’s so important for people to take these tests.”
Krista Baker, CEDA, who works on the Broadband Crowd-Sourced Speed Project, provided a timeline of upload/download speeds adopted by the FCC over the past two decades. It started in 1996 with 200 kbps (kilobytes per second) download and 200 kbps upload, updated in 2010 to 4 Mbps (megabytes per second) down and with 1 Mbps up, and in 2015 it increased to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps.
“We’re now in 2022,” Baker said, “and with everything we’ve been through with covid for the past two years, we’re doing more online schools, online medicine, online business. So 25/3 is not enough anymore.
Planners looking to improve Idaho’s broadband have a goal of 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up, which will provide the multiple connectivity that, she added, “is becoming a need for critical communication.
In 2019, the Idaho Broadband Task Force determined District 7 to be the “worst in the state” for connectivity, and although subsequent million-dollar projects were put in place working to address this issue, the region still has unserved and underserved locations and communities.
For examples of zone speeds recorded so far, Baker noted that a test at the Idaho County Courthouse reported a download of 196.15, which is the target speed. However, some tests around town reported speeds of less than 25 downloads; tests in and around Cottonwood showed speeds below 25 and below 10; and a few outlying areas outside of Riggins were also within 10.
In Kamiah and Craigmont, speeds in both towns were reported both above and below 25, the same with Nezperce which also showed speeds below 10.
Baker explained the need for as many tests as possible in order to determine the real data. For example, a person on top of a mountain may pay 100/20, and this may not reflect the service of surrounding users; however, the FCC will take the data and broadly apply it to everyone. Further testing demonstrates what the actual service is, and by demonstrating the need, the hope is that the FCC will direct more subsidies to the state.
“It’s important to take note, this is all completely secure and confidential,” Tucker said. Data will only be used by the state in its grant application, only noting location, internet service provider, and upload/download speeds.
Tentatively, grants will be awarded in 2023 and, according to Tucker, the state will work with counties and other groups such as CEDA to determine local broadband projects.
“We want people to live anywhere and be able to learn anywhere and connect anywhere,” Tucker said. “Rural Idaho is the heart of our state, and we want all of these communities to have the skills to live in our modern society: medicine, business, and more opportunities that we don’t even know yet.”