Bonners Ferry to go light speed with fiber optics

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BONNERS FERRY — The future of Bonners Ferry is looking bright. The kind of bright that comes from fiber optic cable.

Within the next few months, much of the area is slated to be wired with fiber optic, meaning bigger, better, and faster internet service.

Mike Sloan, Bonners Ferry Economic Development Council Director, has been spearheading the project for the past three years.

Sloan said fiber optic isn’t just a means for easier internet surfing, it’s absolutely essential to economic progress. “Any area that doesn’t have this is at a distinct disadvantage,” Sloan said. “If we ever want to attract businesses to our area, we need this.”

Fiber optic cable, which transmits information through infrared light, has a potential bandwidth of many terabytes per second. Conventional coaxial cable, the kind that brings television into homes, is slower, carries far less data, and can be susceptible

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Sloan said the project began three years ago when federal stimulus money was made available for technology projects in Idaho communities. Although Bonners was unable to obtain grant money at that time, initial mapping studies determined the project was feasible. Knowing how crucial the project is to the community, Sloan has been pushing it forward ever since.

“We are a little isolated up here,” Sloan said “We don’t have the density that would attract this kind of thing.”

Sloan said when the opportunity presented itself, it was time to move forward and create a bond.

The bond, which is classified as a “revenue bond,” provides funding for the project, but is not dependent on taxes. Instead, the money will be repaid through income generated from the new system.

Sloan has been coordinating efforts with surrounding areas, including Sandpoint, Kootenai, Ponderay, and Dover.

EDC is in discussions with Blackfoot Telecommunications Group out of Missoula, Mont., regarding installation and service of the lines.

The initial cable installation is called the “Mid-mile Line” and will run into Bonners Ferry up to the Canadian border.

Sloan described the line as a big water pipe with smaller pipes branching from it. The line will allow internet providers to access the data stream and offer service to local users for a fraction of current costs. “They could supply me three times the speed the same price,” Sloan said.

Sloan said the service area will cover everywhere electrical lines are currently found throughout Bonners, all the way to Moyie Springs, with only a few small areas without coverage.

Sloan said technology infrastructure such as fiber optic is crucial to creating jobs in the region.

He recalled the first interstate highways to be built in the California area: “Today, if you don’t have an interstate going by your front door, you’re at a disadvantage,” Sloan said. “Broadband is the same effect. Companies need that connection, and if they don’t have it, they’re not coming here.”

The final amount of the bond has not yet been determined, and all details will need to be examined by the Panhandle Area Council, city of Bonners Ferry, and legal advisors.

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