[Vision2020] For Idaho and the Internet, Life in the Slow Lane

Mike Hall mikech at fsr.com
Mon Sep 19 18:01:33 PDT 2011


It's too bad these folks didn't bother to print anything about some of the good developments going on in Idaho as well.  Yes, there are many areas throughout the State that have slow Internet, in fact some areas that have NO Internet besides dial-up and satellite.  While that part of the article is true, there are also a number of companies like First Step and many other Internet providers both north and south that have been building broadband out into the hinterlands.  Places like Elk River and Bovill and Weippe are just a few that come to mind - now they have broadband due to the efforts of small or regional ISPs who have invested their own cash as well as gone out and brought in grants to build infrastructure.  Even Frontier, after they took over for Verizon, added DSL to a number of small communities that Verizon had neglected for years.
The is also some question about the accuracy of the article.   The number they threw out about new investment currently under way seems way off.  We have heard of one Idaho project alone that is valued at $25 million, so we are not sure where that figure came from.  First Step has a BTOP project underway valued at $2.4 million and $600,000 in match from First Step and our partners.  This project will result in a 200mbps+ regional backbone throughout 5 counties and a number of rural towns throughout the north-central region.  And there is a lot more going on throughout the state as a result of BTOP and BIP projects.
It is also interesting the way anecdotal stories of bears rubbing towers made their way into the article.  We have heard that this particular event occurred over seven years ago when that company had a Fractional T-1 from Verizon --- I had to make that clear since everyone knows that First Step towers are bear proof!     :^)
Anyways, it is interesting that our president spent an hour on the phone being interviewed by this reporter, but there wasn't a peep about that anywhere.  It's obvious that her editor removed a lot of material from the article and left the fun stuff that perpetuates pre-conceived stereotypes of Idaho.  Hopefully they will follow it up with another article that provides a more comprehensive picture.
BTW - To read about the First Step Internet BTOP project, visit http://btop.fsr.com/.

Mike Hall
First Step Internet
Area Sales Manager
208-882-8869 Ext. 540
mikech at fsr.com<mailto:mikech at fsr.com>

From: vision2020-bounces at moscow.com<mailto:vision2020-bounces at moscow.com> [mailto:vision2020-bounces at moscow.com]<mailto:[mailto:vision2020-bounces at moscow.com]> On Behalf Of Dan Carscallen
Sent: Wednesday, September 14, 2011 11:42 AM
To: 'vision 2020'
Subject: Re: [Vision2020] For Idaho and the Internet, Life in the Slow Lane

Bears rubbing on the towers . . . I guess one of the prices we pay for getting to live here.


From: vision2020-bounces at moscow.com<mailto:vision2020-bounces at moscow.com> [mailto:vision2020-bounces at moscow.com]<mailto:[mailto:vision2020-bounces at moscow.com]> On Behalf Of Saundra Lund
Sent: Wednesday, September 14, 2011 11:39 AM
To: 'vision 2020'
Subject: [Vision2020] For Idaho and the Internet, Life in the Slow Lane

< http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/14/us/downloads-are-slowest-in-idaho-study-finds.html?_r=1&partner=rss&emc=rss&pagewanted=all>

For Idaho and the Internet, Life in the Slow Lane

By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/s/katharine_q_seelye/index.html?inline=nyt-per>
Published: September 13, 2011

POTLATCH, Idaho - Barry Ramsay, who owns a small manufacturing company here between two mountains, remembers the day his Internet connection crashed for several hours. Work crews had to ride up in snowmobiles to discover the problem.

"They said that bears had been rubbing against the towers," Mr. Ramsay said. In this mountainous state, where some connections depend on line of sight, even snow and fog can disrupt the signals. "These are the kind of problems you probably don't have in an urban area," he said.
And, according to a new study, they are among the problems that have earned Idaho an unfortunate distinction: it had the slowest Internet speeds in the country earlier this year for residential customers who were downloading things like games - a "dismal" average of 318 kilobytes per second.
Translation: In Idaho, it would take you 9.42 seconds to download a standard music file compared with 3.36 seconds in Rhode Island, the state with the fastest average speeds, at 894 kilobytes per second.
The slowest city, by the way, was also in Idaho: In Pocatello, it would take nearly 12 seconds to download that music file, according to the study by Pando Networks, a company that helps consumers accelerate downloads. In the nation's fastest city, Andover, Mass., a Boston suburb, it would take just over one second.
Such speed distinctions might seem insignificant. But with larger files, downloading delays of just a few seconds can stretch into crucial minutes or hours and over time result in losses across many aspects of life, some experts say, beyond entertainment and games, affecting fields such as public safety, education and economic growth. It is not clear how many households throughout this state still have no Internet, but nationally, the figure is 28 percent - most of them in rural areas.
The United States as a whole lags in speed, coming in 25th behind South Korea, which has the fastest speeds in the world. Even Romania clocks in ahead.
"This is about our overall competitiveness," said Jonathan Adelstein, the administrator of the federal government's Rural Utilities Service and a major advocate of broadband. "Without broadband, especially in rural areas, kids might not reach their full potential. And we can't expect to be competitive in a global economy."
More than 11 federally funded projects are under way in Idaho, at a cost of $25 million, to establish high-speed broadband.
Yet this sparsely populated, mountainous state still lags in residential speeds, and the Pando study is only the most recent indicator. The federal government's National Broadband Map put Idaho at 47th for download speeds of three megabits or greater. But the Pando study stung the collective psyche of officials here.
"The last thing I need is a report that says we don't have the capacity and speed, when I know it exists," said Gynii A. Gilliam, executive director for the Bannock Development Corporation, a nonprofit group working for economic growth in the Pocatello area. She noted that Allstate Insurance was opening a $22 million call center in Pocatello and that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has a service center there. "We have not lost any business because of Internet speeds," she said.
Indeed, speeds for Idaho's businesses can be as fast as those anywhere, if customers pay for it. The federal government says Idaho is among the states with the greatest disparity in speeds available in urban areas versus rural areas.
Even Ms. Gilliam acknowledged that her home service was sluggish.
"It feels like it's moving in slow motion," she said. "A lot of times I'll start downloads and not complete them." She said she was happy as long as she could get e-mail.
But others are concerned.
"We have not been participating in the telecommunications revolution," lamented State Representative John Rusche, a retired pediatrician, a former health insurance executive and the Democratic leader in the State House. As someone concerned about electronic medical records, he has been pushing for better Internet service for years.
The Pando study examined 4 million actual download speeds of Pando-supported products - games, antivirus software and television shows - by residential customers across the country from January to June.
The study found the fastest residential Internet speeds in New England and the mid-Atlantic states and the slowest in the mountain west.
Idaho encapsulates some of the challenges for mountain states. Home to the Bitterroot Range of the Rockies, the state is crisscrossed by a series of peaks, ridges, forests, high plateaus and river valleys, making it expensive to lay cable or build towers.
"We have a guy here who was dropped into remote, isolated areas of Iraq to set up their telecommunications systems," said Christine L. Frei, director of the Clearwater Economic Development Association in Lewiston. "He told me, 'We had better communications in Iraq than you have in central Idaho.' "
Idaho is also sparsely populated, with an average of 19 people per square mile. (Rhode Island, by comparison, has more than 1,018 people per square mile.) Providers have little financial incentive to build a whole infrastructure across rugged terrain just to reach one or two homes.
"We're in business to make a profit," said Jim Schmit, vice president and general manager in Idaho for CenturyLink, formerly Qwest and now the state's largest Internet service provider. Still, Mr. Schmit said that 92 percent of CenturyLink customers here had "access" to broadband, though he declined to say how many of those who could subscribe actually did so.
Bibiana Nertney, a spokeswoman for the Idaho Department of Commerce, said residential customers often could not afford broadband.
"It's not the lack of availability," she said. "It's the lack of demand and what people are willing to pay. It goes to Idaho's philosophy and mentality that we don't spend more than we need."
While grants and loans are available to build out the Internet infrastructure, Kerrie Hurd, the broadband liaison for the federal Department of Agriculture Office of Rural Development in Idaho, said the grant requirements could be onerous.
"Not a lot of communities are willing to put in the application and find the broadband provider, especially when taxpayers want money to spend on an essential service, like fixing the streets and updating the sewer system," she said.
A bright spot is the Idaho Education Network, which provides high-speed broadband to all high schools in the state and allows residents and business owners to use the service at the schools. Unfortunately, because of cuts to school funding, some schools are open fewer hours.
To address the cost issue, Mr. Schmit of CenturyLink said that starting next month, the company would offer broadband services at a discount to low-income customers.
But some say more needs to be done.
"I don't think enough people understand just how bad the situation is," said Susan Crawford, who focused on broadband issues for President Obama early in his administration. "It really is time for this country to invest in getting its citizens online where we don't have Internet access, especially in rural areas, so we stop sending jobs to India that we could be sending to Idaho."
John Schwartz contributed reporting from New York.

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