Don't hold your breath expecting high-speed Internet access to come to Boundary County anytime soon.
A global provider of engineering and operations services for corporations and governments has found that it would not be cost-effective for the city of Bonners Ferry to own and operate a municipal network for public access to compete with current Internet service providers.
Contracted by the city in 2007 to explore the feasibility of a city-owned fiber optic network to improve internal communications within the Bonners Ferry city limits and remote sites, CH2M Hill said the projected costs of a 100 percent fiber-deployment would definitely outweigh any "pay-back" to the city.
"Project engineering suggests that the canyon topography, the approximately five-mile reach to install fiber to the Moyie River hydro-plant, and the linear-layout of the City of Bonners Ferry would require an extensive investment in fiber installation," CH2M Hill's report said.
Because of the limited population to be served and the per-mile cost of fiber installation, CH2M Hill - ranked by Fortune magazine as number 54 of the top 100 companies to work for in 2008 - concurred that the projected payback for the investment would be limited.
Instead, the firm's engineers recommended what they described as a "hybrid approach" by building a limited fiber system coupled with wireless antennae relays to access the Moyie River power plant and other city facilities not directly in-line with the fiber optic system.
It's no secret that Boundary County has an unmet community demand for extended, high-quality broadband access.
While some residents and businesses in Bonners Ferry subscribe to DSL through Verizon, many use "air cards" to connect to the Internet. However, CH2M Hill engineers and consulting staff say quality of service is often affected by weather. And though Verizon has access points for three geographic locations, they also say it still doesn't reach many Boundary County areas.
"This is an impediment to economic growth," the report pointed out. "However, the City will need to be prepared to work with the existing carriers to improve and expand service as demand increases. Verizon could gain a significant increase in percentage of customers used."
In the meantime, CH2M Hill said a conceptual network design has been created for the exclusive use of local government that has the capacity to allow the city to offer "dark fiber" to other organizations for a fee in the future.
In 2001, CH2M Hill helped Idaho Falls evaluate and design a fiber ring which it installed to enhance government access. It provided excess "dark fiber" which was leased by area businesses, something Bonners Ferry wanted the company to explore.
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