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BETA Distributes Telecommunication Plan

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    The Bonner Education and Technology Alliance is continuing its long term efforts to bring affordable high speed Internet access to the region by distributing a telecommunication study commissioned by the group.  The “Telecommunication Strategic Plan” was authored by Kathleen McMahon of Applied Communications, and was part of a needs assessment conducted by BETA. The document reads partially as a tutorial on the terminology and concepts utilized in the telecommunications industry, partially as an infrastructure inventory of the area and partially as a how-to guide for BETA to educate the public and build awareness. BETA’s goal in contracting for the plan was to get information that would assist the group in establishing a starting point for determining what kind of technical resources Bonner County possessed, who owned the resources, and what types of opportunities existed to expand those resources.  Funding was obtained from a USDA Rural Development grant, awarded to the City of Sandpoint on behalf of BETA.

    Technical resources is a broad concept, but specifically relates to a community’s “technical infrastructure.”  For instance, it is a given if you live in a metropolitan area that high speed Internet is readily available and generally quite affordable. There are several methods of delivering high speed Internet access, but the most common method in densely populated areas is through cable modems. The cable line is brought into your home or office just like your cable television line, and can be accessed through your PC or through your television acting as your monitor.  In Bonner County there are currently three cable television providers, but none of them offer cable modem services.      Another example of high speed Internet access is through DSL – Digital Subscriber Line. A DSL connection is maintained using a specific type of modem that connects through a data line that you have to order through the phone company. Most people still call Verizon “the phone company,” but again, in larger areas, a person is not necessarily restricted to obtaining the line from the same telecommunications company that provides their phone service. This is strictly an issue of competition, and obviously there is less competition in rural areas. A DSL connection also requires that you live or work within a specific geographic parameter from the location of what is termed “the central office.” Thus, currently, DSL is limited to those who reside or work in the Sandpoint city limits. 

    Another high speed medium involves using a “wireless network.” This general concept involves extending a high-speed connection from one point, which must already have it, to a second point, which needs it.

    Lastly, for rural residents, there is the option of high speed Internet access through satellite.  This is very similar to receiving your television connection via satellite, and works well if you live anywhere outside the reach of DSL or wireless.

    Overall, the Telecommunication Plan outlines which organizations currently have a high-speed connection, what the expansion plans are for Verizon, and where the local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) stand in regard to services provided.

    One of the goals in sharing this information with the community, with technology providers and with potential business consumers is to measure the ability for the community to leverage its position to get more services. To get more services, we have to show that there is a market base for the services. To obtain a commitment from the market, it is necessary for people to understand what benefits are obtained from having a high-speed connection, and to make the price reasonable enough to attract a consumer’s attention. Absent of any tinkering with the market, the number of people investing in high speed Internet access is growing, but the growth is more on the business side than on the consumer side. The cost is also not necessarily as low as some small businesses need it to be to consider absorbing it as a routine part of their overhead.

    Once the Plan has been distributed, BETA also expects to issue a Request for Information (RFI). This document is considered a preliminary stage to developing a more cohesive plan that companies providing high-speed services could bid on. The RFI is designed to flush out all of the potential options – including tower locations, technology provider expansion plans, costs to bring new services to the area and organizations potentially willing to join a cooperative effort– resulting in a larger consumer. In order to ask a technology provider what they could potentially do for us as a county, there is a great deal of fact-finding that must be initiated to determine what our options are.  Steps to develop the RFI into a releasable format are currently underway.

    Several copies of the plan will be available at the library branches in Sandpoint and in Clark Fork. Copies are also going to be distributed to city councils in Sandpoint, Dover, Priest River, Ponderay, Hope and Clark Fork.      Chambers of Commerce, including Sandpoint, Hope/Clark Fork, Priest River and Priest Lake, will also receive copies. Any civil or service organization that is interested in having a BETA member address their group should contact the Bonner Business Center (BBC) at 263-4073. Anyone interested in attending a BETA meeting can do so at the Bonner Business Center on the second Monday of each month at 12 noon. Meetings generally last one hour. To download the Plan, go to www.bonnereta.org and click on the link to the .pdf file.

    BETA is also working this quarter to coordinate with the Bonner County Teleconferencing Center Site Manager, Kristen Peacock, on demonstration seminars. The seminars are focused on showing various groups, either business, educational, governmental, or non-profit, on how to use the tele-video conferencing equipment. Anyone in the county can schedule a presentation or teleconference. In January the Sandpoint City Council will receive an overview as well as county department heads.  There is also a meeting scheduled for home school educators. For more information on receiving a presentation for your group, call 263-8511.

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Carol Curtis

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