Idaho State Seal

Not all state-level broadband funding awards are going to commercial service providers, as recent news from Idaho illustrates.

The Idaho Broadband Advisory Board made two awards earlier this month. An award for $20 million went to the Idaho Regional Optical Network (IRON) and the Intermountain Infrastructure Group for a 198-mile north-south fiber network. The second award, for $6.2 million, went to the Port of Lewiston to connect the port to the IRON network.

Both projects will have a substantial amount of matching funds. The IRON network will use $60 million in matching funds and the Port of Lewiston will use $5.6 million in matching funds.

Port of Lewiston Award

“It’s an open access wholesale network,” said Scott Corbett, general manager for the Port of Lewiston, in an interview with Telecompetitor. “We will own the network and individual providers will rent our fiber.”

The Port of Lewiston has the distinction of being the most inland port on the west coast. It’s connected to the Pacific Ocean, 465 miles away, by the Columbia-Snake River system. Inland barges transport bulk commodities and containerized cargo to the port.

Located 465 miles from the Pacific Ocean, the Port of Lewiston is the most inland Port on the west coast. The Columbia-Snake River system is supported by an inland barge service that transports bulk commodities and containerized cargo.

A key goal for the Port of Lewiston is economic development and the new network is expected to play a key role in supporting that goal.

The new network will cross through some of the most unserved and underserved areas of the state, Corbett said.

“We will be able to allow different internet service providers to connect to this backbone and take connectivity to places that never had it before,” he commented. Numerous anchor institutions are eager to connect to the network, he said.

Corbett also noted that the new network will provide an alternate fiber route from Lewiston to Spokane, enabling the area to remain connected in the event of a fiber cut on one of the routes.

The Port of Lewiston initially obtained funding for the network through a Department of Commerce economic development program, but between the time the port applied for the award and the award was made, construction costs had doubled.

The Idaho broadband funding enabled the port to obtain the additional money needed for the project.

In evaluating applications, the state required projects to be shovel-ready and applicants had to contribute matching funds. There was no minimum on the match, but projects with a higher percentage of matching funds were favored.

Projects that were eligible for funding through the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) or American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) were excluded.

Corbett sees the network “making our part of the world better for business and liveability.”


IRON did not respond to a request for an interview from Telecompetitor in time for our deadline. But according to the organization’s web page, the organization was created in 2007 when the state of Idaho, the Idaho Hospital Association, the Idaho National Laboratory and several universities got together to establish a high-speed optical research and education network.

According to an Idaho Commerce press release, the north-south backbone that the new funding will support is “long-awaited.” Commercial, non-profits, local communities and rural internet providers will be able to use the network.

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