Grant brings high-speed internet to Eureka

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Funding from a federal grant is bringing high-speed internet to downtown Eureka.

Interbel Telephone Cooperative Inc. in Eureka won a $486,000 grant from the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Association to install fiber-optic cable to deliver high-speed internet service to Eureka’s main business corridor.

The technology will allow businesses to expand and have more people working online at the same time without slowing down — a must for expansion in the modern era.

“It’s not affordable for a business to pay to bring fiber to their own business, so without the grant we would not have been able to do it,” said Randy Wilson, the general manager at Interbel.

The hope is that this will allow growing businesses to stay in Eureka.

“For existing businesses, it provides them the capability to grow, add employees and add jobs where they otherwise may not be able to do if they needed faster broadband internet connection,” Wilson said. “These days, businesses are so reliant on the internet that a fast connection is needed to conduct business properly. The more users you have, the faster connection you need.”

He said the telephone cooperative had already connected a lot of fiber-optic lines to some of their rural residential customers, but this grant would help them fill out the main business corridor. He said all the fiber-optic line installed with the grant money would be in Eureka proper.

Wilson said the difference for internet users would be stark after the completion of the project.

He said a standard two-gigabyte file took about 2.2 hours to download using the old copper wire technology that much of the town uses to get internet now. With the new fiber-optic technology, that same file would take only 7.8 minutes to download.

Wilson noted that streaming a two-hour movie on Netflix would use several gigabytes of data, so being able to handle files of this size was extremely important these days.

Both Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester expressed their support to the federal Economic Development Association to issue the grant to Interbel.

The total cost of the project is $810,000, and Wilson said Interbel would be footing the portion of the bill not covered by the grant.

Wilson said Interbel plans to put the project out for bid in the fall of 2018 and start construction the following spring. He hopes the work will be completed by summer of 2019. He anticipates the company that earns the bid will be from the Pacific Northwest.

This is the first grant of this kind Interbel has received from the Economic Development Association. Wilson credited Rural Economic Designs, LLC with helping them complete what turned out to be a successful application.

Reporter Peregrine Frissell can be reached at (406) 758-4438 or pfrissell@dailyinterlake.com.

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