Updated: Jan 4, 2020
first appeared in The Coeur d'Alene Press on October 8, 2019. By Sharon Fisher.
A Wisconsin-based company is building a network that will bring 700 miles of fiber-optic cabling – and high-speed internet – to North Idaho.
The project, parts of which are due to be complete by November, is intended to bring fiber to homes in Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls, Hayden and Rathdrum. The company, TDS, based in Madison, announced the project in May and started working on the network in June.
“When the fiber network is complete, TDS will deliver up to 1 Gigabit internet speeds, which will provide exceptional bandwidth for businesses and for residents looking for the absolute best gaming, streaming and telecommuting experiences,” said Jim Butman, president and CEO of TDS, in a statement.
How the network is installed
TDS said it is investing more than $100 million in the project. It is working with a contractor, Quanta Services, to lay cabling using existing utility easements and public rights-of-way as much as possible, TDS said in a statement. Cabling itself is placed in a conduit.
When digging is necessary, Quanta will use drilling or plowing techniques intended to limit disruptions, TDS said. Once the conduit and fiber are installed, the trenches will be filled and grass will be replaced or reseeded, the company said.
In addition to providing broadband internet access speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second (Gbps), the project is also bringing jobs to the region – 27 so far, with a total of as many as 200 by the end of 2022, the company said.
So far, the company plans three office locations – retail locations in Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls and another location that’s just for staff and equipment.
Services of up to 1 Gbps download and up to 400 megabits per second (Mbps) upload are priced at $70 per month when part of a bundle with other services and $75 per month unbundled. These are promotional prices for the next two years and don’t have data caps, according to the company.
New to North Idaho
TDS had been working with the cities of Spokane and Coeur d’Alene on partnerships that would have had the cities invest money in the network, such as getting back $1 million in fees from Coeur d’Alene. While those negotiations didn’t pan out, TDS decided to go forward with putting in the network anyway.
While more metropolitan parts of North Idaho have enjoyed access to broadband internet, rural areas such as Rathdrum have not. A year ago, Intermax, based in Coeur d’Alene, received $940,000 to improve service in Idaho’s panhandle from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which offered Idaho a share of the $1.49 billion it provided nationwide through its Phase II grants, funded by the Universal Service Fund. Intermax committed to providing 25 Mbps download speed to 42 census block groups in north Idaho over the next five years.
However, much of Intermax’ service is provided through fixed wireless, which means the company puts a transmitter someplace central and tall – typically, in rural Idaho, the town’s water tower – and puts a receiver on customers’ homes. If the house has a sight line to the water tower, it can typically pick up the signal. While that method is cheaper than laying cable, it is usually not as fast as a direct connection, offering speeds of up to 100 Mbps.
Gov. Brad Little formed a task force earlier this year to look at options to improve broadband internet access in Idaho.
In addition to Idaho and Wisconsin, TDS also provides fiber-optic networking services to parts of Georgia and Tennessee. TDS Telecommunications has more than 1.2 million customers among nearly 900 rural, suburban and metropolitan communities across the U.S.