GRANGEVILLE – David McKnight, owner of Airbridge Broadband, updated the Idaho County commissioners, at their Nov. 9 meeting, on the expansion of broadband access in Idaho County. Airbridge has made significant progress in construction of additional fixed wireless towers in Idaho County as part of a $500,000 State of Idaho Broadband grant. Funding is provided under Federal CARES, Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act. The funds are intended to help finance broadband infrastructure to improve distance learning, telehealth, telework, economic development and public safety according to Idaho County’s grant application. The 2021 project expands on the progress made with an $850,000 contract completed by Airbridge in 2020. This year’s project is expected to provide coverage to 600 more homes and businesses in addition to the 2,000 additional locations from the 2020 project.
The commissioners accepted Airbridge’s proposal on July 20, this year. In recent weeks, Airbridge has greatly expanded coverage in the Elk City area, with seven new towers, including one that serves that Endomines site, according to McKnight. “People in Elk City were very happy,” he said after the towers went live.
“It will make telecommuting absolutely possible and make telemedicine reliable,” said Joyce Dearstyne, of Framing our Community, in Elk City, when reached for comment. “It is absolutely good for businesses.” Dearstyne noted that it also improves online schooling and the ability to teach or attend webinars. In addition to expanded coverage areas, the doubling of Internet speed is a big benefit for area residents. She described the improvement of cell phone coverage via Wi-Fi.
Airbridge also added two sites in the Glenwood and Caribel areas, two near Highway 12, southeast of Kooskia, two sites in the Riggins area, one above Pollock, and the Westlake area behind Cottonwood. They have also added five sites in Lewis County, several of which serve Idaho County customers. McKnight expects to complete nineteen towers in Idaho County and conclude the project by early December.
McKnight explained that Airbridge currently has seventeen employees, but they hope to add more in the next few weeks. He reported on the challenges of moving forward with the project with instances of multiple employees out sick with COVID. He expects to increase staffing to 25-30 in the next year.
“We were pretty aggressive in ordering early,” said McKnight, in answer to questions about the supply chain issue.
McKnight said he is excited about the new infrastructure bill, (referring to the bill recently signed by President Biden). This new bill includes $65 billion for broadband, with an estimated $100,000 million coming to Idaho over a five-year period. “I see a lot of awesome stuff coming down the pipe for the county!” said McKnight. County Commissioner Skip Brandt agreed, saying “more money is good.”