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BOISE – Idaho is the 43rd-most connected state when it comes to broadband, and a slew of recommendations from a Broadband Task Force convened by Gov. Brad Little are aimed at improving that.

Little announced Friday that after six months of work, the task force’s recommendations are in and he’s accepted its report, which he’ll review to determine which suggestions will be included in his budget and policy recommendations for the 2020 legislative session.

“In a data-driven society, connectivity is imperative for a vital economy,” Little said in a news release. “Improved broadband infrastructure ensures both urban and rural Idaho will be connected and well-positioned to attract business and enhance our citizens’ quality of life.”

The task force’s recommendations include updating the state’s broadband plan; establishing a state broadband office within the state Department of Commerce; considering state funding options; formalizing “dig once and hang once” policies to lower investment costs, including the establishment of a state construction registry; and some specific calls to action in some of the most underserved rural areas, including north-central Idaho and Melba.

The report includes an array of Idaho businesses’ examples of problems they’ve faced trying to get adequate broadband service, particularly in rural parts of the state.

Broadband coverage is good in Idaho’s most urbanized areas, according to the state Department of Commerce, with coverage at 99% in Boise, 94.7% in Nampa and 92.6% in Pocatello, for example. But small towns and rural areas have far lower figures, with Grangeville, Orofino, St. Maries and Spirit Lake all coming in at zero; Parma, 40.5%; Priest River, 29.8%; and Kamiah, 24%.

Broadband provides high-speed internet connections. It’s typically a “wired” internet connection, while WiFi transfers data wirelessly via radio waves. Over 300,000 Idahoans don’t have access to a wired connection capable of 25mbps download speeds, according to the commerce department, while another 107,000 residents don’t have any wired internet providers available where they live.

State Commerce Director Tom Kealey, who chaired the task force, said its recommendations are designed “to ensure both rural and urban Idaho are connected and well-positioned for maximum future success for our communities, our businesses, and our citizens.”

The full, 77-page report is online here: bit.ly/2DaISSh

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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