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Addressing Broadband in Idaho: The time is NOW

June 26, 2013

According to a report last October by the University of Idaho, “Competition among providers of residential broadband increased [in the state] between 2009 to 2011.” In fact, 61 broadband service providers operated in the state in 2011.

Yet, many of the most rural counties still lack high-speed service (The state ranks 44th in the nation in terms of broadband access) and speeds statewide are slow.

In an opinion piece recently at MagicValley.Com, Idaho State Rep. George Eskridge, who is also co-chairman of the Energy, Environment and Technology Interim Committee, offered suggestions for how to expand broadband access to more of the state’s citizens. Rep. Eskridge says his fellow lawmakers need to make increasing access to broadband “a priority.”

Rep. Eskridge acknowledges that Idaho is a unique case, with certain challenges. It is a very rural state with “low population density across long distances, making it more expensive and difficult to bring high-speed Internet access to some of its more rural areas.”

Yet, the state legislator does not use this fact as an excuse to call for a government-owned network. Rep. Eskridge is still confident his state can attract private sector investors – if it sets up the proper regulatory environment.

To drive additional investment in the broadband sector, Rep. Eskridge recommends his fellow lawmakers work to strengthen their relationship with the private sector, instead of setting up in competition with it. He says, “We need to find solutions that encourage private sector investment and bring high-speed Internet to even our most rural areas.” Rep. Eskridge says the U.S.’s “light regulatory” touched has produced more than $1 trillion investment in broadband infrastructure nationwide since 1996 and “more fixed and wireless broadband Internet subscribers than any nation in the world.” He recommends the state take a similar approach.

Rep. Eskridge argues his plan will not only be good for Idaho consumers, but for the state’s overall economy. He notes, “Today, the Internet economy supports more than 3.8 million jobs. The so-called ‘app economy,’ which was non-existent a few years ago, now supports more than 519,000 jobs alone. Expanding broadband access will allow us to capitalize on these opportunities right here in Idaho.”

Unfortunately, today, too many states have regulatory environments that encourage government-owned broadband networks (GONs) instead of encouraging private sector investment. These states exempt GONs from the regulations, taxes and fees private providers pay. These states can unleash private broadband investment by reforming these laws.