Rural counties plagued by holes in communications

Jerry Zumalt

GRANGEVILLE — There’s no question Idaho County needs a reliable communication infrastructure, commissioners were told Tuesday.

But how that comes about and who pays for it is the big question.

“I think we need to do someting about it,” said Jerry Zumalt, the county’s emergency management director. “Exactly what, I don’t know.”

Zumalt was referring to a report prepared recently for Nez Perce County on behalf of the Idaho District 2 Interoperable Governance Board by Advanced Technology Partners, LLC.

The board, which includes the five north central Idaho counties and the Nez Perce Tribe, is looking for ways to create a reliable communications infrastructure to meet the growing needs of the counties and local communities.

According to the report: “Applications related to emergency services such as next-generation E911, inter-agency voice and data communications, location services and mapping require reliable communications infrastructure with scalable broadband connectivity.”

The systems also need to be sharable between counties and other groups, the report said.

That’s one of the many problems rural areas such as Idaho County faces, Zumalt told the commissioners.

Both Idaho and Clearwater counties, he noted, frequently lose internet and phone communication service from power and phone outages.

The commissioners said there also is a big communications gap between Riggins and Grangeville, where Frontier Communications and CenturyLink fail to connect.

Zumalt said finding ways to bridge those dead spots in the communications network “is a key piece for Idaho County. In the long term, I think it’s critical.

“Any improvements that can be made here, I think are really important in the long term. We can’t coordinate with other dispatch centers.”

Besides the unreliability for emergency services, Zumalt said a lack of connectivity affects farmers and other businesses that rely on outside communication for their operations.

The report said establishing a stronger network would create connectivity between locations in the five-county region and ensure that the systems continue to function, especially in times of need.

The report also discusses financing options between private and governmental agencies.

Zumalt told the commissioners that finding partnerships is highly likely.

“This is a much bigger deal than (the 25 pages of the report),” Zumalt said. “It truly could revolutionize the private sector. It’s not cheap, but it’s all potentially doable.”

In other business, the commissioners approved a maintenance agreement for rock and debris removal on the Salmon River Road east of Riggins. The agreement calls for the Idaho Transportation Board and the county to share costs and responsibility in the road maintenance. The 15-miles stretch of road, which is used primarily by recreationists and some ranchers in the area, was recently widened and paved after a several-year project paid for by the Federal Highway Administration. The county’s part of the deal includes preservation of the roadway following completion of the construction.

Hedberg may be contacted at kathyhedberg@gmail.com or (208) 983-2326.

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