Why does broadband even matter?

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There has been a significant amount of discussion concerning Syringa Networks proposed use of fiber optic lines down Interstate-90 that would be necessary for broadband internet to finally come to Shoshone County.

To most, broadband internet simply means faster and more reliable internet services compared to what users currently have, but the arrival of broadband has the potential to open up a range of possibilities that have never before been available in the Silver Valley.

According to Loren Whitten-Kaboth, the director of the Silver Valley Economic Development Corporation, the arrival of broadband would be a major selling point for new businesses and economic growth.

“Broadband is important for economic development and growth of new businesses and the expansion of current businesses,” Whitten-Kaboth said. “With 88 percent of businesses (according to a 2013 survey) stating that having an Internet connection is critical for their business, this is an important issue economically for the county and businesses. Businesses also indicate they are willing to pay more for faster broadband.”

Other local residents have seen the drawbacks of the current internet system in both the community as well as in their own personal businesses and endeavors.

Silver Valley Chamber president and local realtor Karen Hulstrom has seen the results of the lack of reliable and fast internet in her business specifically.

“I have lost clients who wished to move here for the recreation but chose not to due to lack of internet speed,” Hulstrom said. “Many work from home and the current service is too inadequate. A recent transplant told me if they had known how poor the service was, they would not have relocated their business here.”

Those are just statements from one business owner.

Many business owners and local experts believe that addressing this issue will make the area more attractive to potential business and property owners as well as boosting the existing economy.

On a national scale the concept of not having high speed internet at the public’s disposal is unacceptable according to the NTCA- The Rural Broadband Association.

“Broadband has replaced the telephone and represents the infrastructure opportunity of the 21st century,” NTCA CEO Shirley Bloomfield said in a recent interview with StatePoint. “To not have access to high-speed Internet today should be unimaginable -- as it is needed for education, commerce, healthcare and government services. Yet millions of rural Americans have limited or even no access to robust broadband,” says Bloomfield. “It is critical to deliver this service affordably to the unserved, and to ensure those already receiving broadband remain served.” According to NTCA, in 2015, the rural broadband industry supported nearly 70,000 jobs, over $100 billion in e-commerce, and rural broadband companies contributed $24.1 billion to the U.S. economy through investments and operations, with 66 percent of that economic activity benefitting urban, rather than rural, communities.

Although faster internet would benefit the community at large, the local school districts have been utilizing a fiber based network for some time.

Kellogg School District technology director Simon Miller has been in the thick of this issue for several years and understands the process better than most people.

“Right now the larger customers (Dave Smith Motors, Kellogg School District, Wallace School District, and NASCO) don't really have much to complain about,” Miller said. “We have fiber based Internet but it is subsidized by federal E-rate dollars. That means we get 80% of what we pay for Internet back due to our high poverty student population. DSM and NASCO have the capital to pay for expensive, but fast metro ethernet from Frontier. Small businesses can't afford this, so they are stuck with really bad cable internet.”

A lot of questions have been raised concerning Syringa’s status as a business tool and not a residential internet service provider (ISP), but Miller sees how a business tool like Syringa could be exactly what residential ISPs have been looking for to better their service quality.

“Don't get hung up on the ‘not residential’ comments,” Miller stated. “They simply mean they are not an ISP. They are a carrier/backbone company. So, if we had another fiber option, Suddenlink (hypothetically) could get access to more bandwidth, cheaper, which would result in better speeds for customers, and yes, better pricing. Fiber is infinitely scalable. Further, there could be a market for another ISP, or several ISPs to locate to the Silver Valley to offer internet to people, particularly in hard to reach areas as they would not have to back-haul all Internet traffic via Frontier Fiber (based out of Coeur d’Alene).

At this point Syringa is looking for interested businesses who can help with the financial burden of get a central office and access point (or more popularly referred to as a hub) set up where the broadband service can be accessed and redistributed.

According to Syringa account manager Bill Coale, the hubs cost in the range of $5-6 million(not counting the cost of the building that houses it).

“These buildings must be bought,” Coale said, “once you get the equipment inside of them you don’t want to move it.”

Miller hopes that this opportunity doesn’t pass Shoshone County by.

“I would think it is entirely possible, and tragic, if someone like Syringa blew their fiber through the conduit underneath I-90 and bypassed the Silver Valley because there were no interested parties in making it economically feasible for them to break out the fiber along the way,” Miller said.

For more information on the services Syringa Networks hopes to bring to Shoshone County call Bill Coale at (208) 229-6179.

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