Firms unite to provide broadband

A consortium of 12 local telecommunications companies plans to provide access

to broadband technology to rural communities in southern and eastern Idaho,

a project spurred by a new state tax credit.

The consortium, Syringa Networks LLC, will invest $40 million to provide

the fiber-optic network that could serve up to 150,000 people by December

2002.

The 12 telephone companies, some of which also provide Internet and cable

services, are either cooperatives or family-owned businesses that serve

about 40,000 people combined, said Charles Creason, general manager of one

of the companies, Project Mutual Telephone Cooperative Association, Rupert,

Idaho.

He said most of the areas to be served are rural, farming, ranching or forest

areas that have a population density of two to three people per square mile.

But there's a real demand for information and information resources in those

places, he said, adding that people who move into the area or are visiting

have come to expect such services.

"We've been looking the last couple of years to pool our resources to provide

a broadband backbone network to be able to aggregate our traffic to make

it more cost-effective...and survivable," he said.

For the past 10 to 15 years, Creason said companies had been laying down

fiber-optic cable on their own. A feasibility study showed that it would

be very expensive to link and expand the separate networks. Banks and other

lenders wanted high levels of equity for the startup, Creason said.

When the Idaho legislature recently passed a 3 percent tax credit for companies

investing in broadband technology, Creason said the incentive helped provide

the additional equity.

"The idea was to attract investment and new technology and create jobs in

rural areas suffering because the farm economies are not strong," said Mark

Snider, a spokesman for Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, who has pushed for infrastructure

investment in rural Idaho. Snider said no state funding is provided for

project.

About half of the estimated 1,400-mile fiber-optic network still needs to

be installed, Creason said.

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