BOISE — Residents within North Central Idaho have already started seeing improvements to broadband Internet, thanks to infrastructure additions implemented across the region late last year. More work is planned for this year, through a $35 million bill to be brought before a house committee this week by Dist. 7 Sen. Carl Crabtree.

In 2019, Sen. Crabtree (R, Grangeville) was part of the Idaho Broadband Task Force, established by Gov. Brad Little to improve connective and broadband infrastructure across the state. Among the committee’s findings was connectivity in District 7 was the worst in the state. Recognizing this,the Idaho Department of Commerce awarded funds from federal coronavirus relief monies last year for a $1.32 million project by Airbridge Broadband that by last December expanded Internet service to approximately 3,000 unserved residents in Idaho and Lewis counties, as well as laying the infrastructure to expand.

In an interview last Friday, Crabtree said with this $35 million, “this means we’ll be able to do a bunch more in North Central Idaho on broadband. Because we’re the worst place in the state, this is an easy thing to market.”

As proposed, the funds would be disbursed on recommendations of a committe to be made of three persons each from the house and senate, and appointed by the governor.

Broadband expansion efforts continue, as was highlighted during a Feb. 5 presentation in Orofino, attended by Little and Crabtree. During this, it was noted Ziply Fiber added 2,330 fiber lines total to its installations in Orofino and Weippe, and Inland Cellular added 178 installations in Elk River. The $35 million proposed by Crabtree would be available for projects to complete by this December, based on recommendations from the 2019 committee, “focused on the poorer performing areas of the state, which is ours,” Crabtree said.

While improving broadband Internet is a project Crabtree is excited to see continue, on one piece of state legislation, S1046, he’s less than excited about.

According to the bill text, S1046 “creates a framework for parents to request an alternative curriculum within a regular public school if parents of at least 24 students request such accommodation.... The hope is that the innovative classroom will give parents a stronger voice advocating for the needs of their children, while encouraging a working relationship between parents, teachers, students and administration.”

Crabtree is, “not too enthusiastic about this idea.”

“What this does, it anoints mob rule by the state on the local people,” he said. “So, if you want to have a class in school and the school board already told you no, you can get 24 people to sign and force the school board to provide that class.” This can potentially aggravate situations, such as if a district has not passed a levy and had to lay off staff, and now limited resources are redirected under the mandates of this bill. “It’s enforcing unelected mobs of people to force elected officials at the local level to do their bidding... I find that outrageous.”

“When we had unelected health districts forcing school boards to do something, oh, we have to change the law,” he continued, regarding restrictions related to COVID-19 precautions, “and now, its doing the same thing in another way, and they find it wonderful.”

Crabtree said the bill is already looking to be amended, “but I don’t know how they’ll amend a bill that flagrant a dereliction of democracy,” he said.