Wednesday, 16 October 2013 16:44

High speed Internet access improving throughout region

First Step Internet Adds 550 New Miles of Wireless Broadband Network

In the world of broadband Internet, data moves from large data center pipes in the United States to middle mile paths, which then connect to last mile infrastructure. Last mile technology links the consumer to the data.First Step BTOP Tower Sites

Just three years ago, many of us in North Central Idaho had no hope of broadband access because middle mile infrastructure was not yet in place to connect to those large data channels. However, access to high speed Internet is now rapidly improving in North Central Idaho thanks to the work First Step Internet has completed under its Central North Idaho Regional Broadband Network Expansion.

“The project vastly improved the middle mile network in our region to move information around,” said Kevin Owen, owner and president of First Step Internet.

The company received about $2.4 million from the Broadband Technologies Opportunity Program, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and has completed 550 miles of wireless broadband network, which includes 13 new tower distribution sites and 72 new data paths.

“The intent of the $7 billion federal BTOP was to improve broadband connectivity across the United States and to create broadband paths where they did not yet exist,” explained Owen. “That was the case in many of our communities.”

The need for broadband access in our region was first identified in 2003 at a regional economic summit hosted by CEDA and other partners and was documented in two subsequent action plans, explained CEDA Executive Director Christine Frei.

CEDA received a USDA Rural Development Rural Business Opportunity grant in 2004 and worked with 16 rural communities to complete the 2006 North Central Idaho Telecom Assessment and Implementation Plan. In 2007, CEDA received a USDA Rural Development Rural Business Enterprise Grant to complete the North Central Idaho Schematic Wide Area Network Design.

“These two documents were critical to the application submitted by First Step Internet,” said Frei. “The Schematic Design provided an initial conceptual plan for the placement of towers to serve the non-served and underserved communities in North Central Idaho.”Owen and Frei say the use of fixed wireless microwave technology to create our broadband network makes sense for our region.

“We get more bang for our buck this way,” said Owen.

It would have cost approximately $30 million to build a broadband network like the one we have now in fiber optic cable, he said. Those costs would have translated to higher costs for consumers. Also, the price is usually higher to make new last mile connections to fiber optic cable because of the cost to extend the cable to specific sites, said Owen.

Frei said that most of us choose to live in North Central Idaho because of the diverse landscape and rural charm, but those same qualities make it harder to create broadband access. “Our goal is to create a telecommunication backbone that could provide a conduit for last mile connectivity,” she said. “The First Step project, along with a similar BTOP project of the Nez Perce Tribe, goes a long way in completing the necessary backbone the region needed.

“Wireless backbone is a very good and cost effective way to get telecommunication capability to our rural communities,” she added. “Our small population and terrain makes serving the region with fiber only very difficult.”

In addition to the new middle mile data paths, the BTOP grant funded last mile connections for 45 community anchor institutions throughout our region, such as schools, government buildings and hospitals. Nearly half of those institutions did not previously have broadband access.

As part of the grant the equipment and installation are provided to community anchor institutions at no cost. Those institutions then work with First Step Internet to pay monthly for service. Owen said First Step Internet wireless broadband service offers speeds up to 100 Mbps (the average number of bits/data transferred per second).


tower work

Community anchor institutions will find that wireless broadband service is flexible in terms of the scalability and affordability. First Step Internet can work with large and small businesses to provide customized solutions that are more affordable than the cost of T-1 (copper) lines, said Owen.

Another benefit of the new wireless broadband network is that it offers redundancy throughout the region, meaning that when one broadband connection fails, another can be tapped into to ensure continuation of service. Last mile institutions and providers may choose to purchase broadband access from First Step’s new network in addition to an existing service to improve redundancy to their site, explained Owen.

Also, the new network has redundancy built into itself. There are multiple wireless data paths that can be followed. In most instances, if one path is down in the network, information can be rerouted, said Owen.

The grant money stopped short of funding last mile connections for residential and business consumers.

Whether or not such individuals can connect through a provider depends on what is available in their community and also their location, said Owen.

He said First Step Internet is a last mile provider in some communities. The company is now working to upgrade and increase access points so that more people throughout the region can tap into the new network for high speed Internet. First Step Internet also sells bandwidth to other providers. Depending on your provider, you may be benefiting from the new broadband network without even knowing it.

Anyone who does not yet have broadband service is encouraged to contact the First Step Internet office.

Owen is ready to explore the creation of individual last mile connections, as well as new last mile connections to serve multiple consumers.

For example, First Step Internet is creating a last mile connection for the new Idaho Youth Challenge Academy opening in Pierce. This could not have been accomplished before the Central North Idaho Regional Broadband Network Expansion project, however the work that has been done on the middle mile infrastructure throughout the Region made it possible to extend service to the school’s location.

“The important thing for me is, if somebody has a need, we have the structure and the framework in place to be able to address that need,” said Owen.” Is it built to everyone? No. Can it be extended? Yes. But, I need to talk to you to get it built to you. We can absolutely offer solutions.”

First Step Internet Company Info

Article Courtesy of the Clearwater Economic Development Association's August 2013 Newsletter "CEDA in Motion."  To read more please visit

Last modified on Wednesday, 16 October 2013 17:06

Contact Info

for assistance please contact:

Ida-Lew Economic Development


Phone: 208.983.8302


300 W. Main St. Ste 201

Grangeville, ID 83530

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