Because of coronavirus, many Teton Valley residents had to abruptly change the way they worked, visited the doctor, and schooled their children. With so many tasks now relegated to the virtual world, fast internet service is more essential than ever. Through Silver Star Communications, the cities of Victor and Driggs have applied for almost $6 million in state grants to install fiber optic cable that serves nearly all residences in both cities.
Idaho has committed $50 million of the $1.25 billion it received from the CARES Act to expand broadband service across the state, prioritizing small rural communities. According to the Department of Commerce website, better internet service in a community attracts business and enhances citizens’ quality of life.
“I really do applaud the State of Idaho for putting this broadband grant together because it’s foundational to so many facets of our society,” Victor city administrator Olivia Goodale said.
Both cities are applying for two different projects. Victor’s project areas are split by Highway 33, with an east side project and a west side project; combined the two grants would amount to $3.2 million in utility installation. In Driggs, the top priority is the old Driggs grid and a corridor along Ski Hill Road, with a second application to install optical fiber at Creekside Meadows and Valley Centre. (Those two neighborhoods already have better service potential so they’re not technically applicable, although the state has said it could be flexible on the criteria.)
“We have the highest confidence that Project Area 1 will be approved,” Silver Star engineering director Chris Blayne told the Driggs City Council on July 21. A speed study conducted on the Project Area 1 (the Driggs grid) showed that over 50 percent of the houses are considered underserved or unserved, depending on the speed of internet they can receive.
In Victor, the west side project is the priority, stretching from the highway to Brookside Hollow, Willow Creek, and Teton Valley Resort. In 2014 Victor received a $50,000 Gem Grant to fund fiber optic cable for downtown businesses, but the scope is this project is significantly larger.
“If the city is awarded these grants, the majority of Victor households will have access to broadband,” Goodale said.
Silver Star will be the service provider for both cities and “was a huge help in writing the application,” Goodale noted. If the grants are awarded, the projects must be completed by mid-December of this year, an extremely tight turn-around.
Blayne said that contracting firms are standing at the ready, prepared to break ground once the awards are announced later this week. He added that Silver Star’s marketing department will communicate to the communities and homeowners who will receive optical fiber installation.
“It’s a pretty big undertaking,” Blayne said. “It will become very busy in town.”