By CRAIG NORTHRUP
COEUR d’ALENE — TDS Metrocom says it’s coming to Kootenai County.
The high-speed internet service provider told The Press on Wednesday that it will introduce gigabit-speed internet to most of Kootenai County by the end of 2021 and as many as 200 jobs to the area by the end of 2022. Specific targets are homes and businesses in Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls, Hayden and Rathdrum.
“We’re very excited about becoming a partner with the community,” TDS Chief Executive Officer Jim Butman said. “Part of this process is understanding the different influences of the community, championing fundraising efforts in the community and hiring people with diverse skills from the community. This is an exciting time for us.”
TDS Metrocom, a division of TDS Telecommunications, presented plans to the Coeur d’Alene City Council in February for the city to rebate a portion of franchise fees back to TDS. When the Council turned down the company’s offer, TDS moved forward with plans to open its newest market in Coeur d’Alene, this time without the subsidy.
DeAnne Boegli, National Public Relations manager for TDS, said the company is early in the permitting process.
“We have been eager to come to Coeur d’Alene for quite some time,” Boegli told The Press. “We have been evaluating a lot of locations all across the United States. Not only is [the Coeur d’Alene area] beautiful, but it is growing. We’re always looking for areas that show real demographic, healthy growth, and areas with demographics that show an interest in technology. Coeur d’Alene definitely fits where we want to grow as a company.”
Boegli said the process for installing fiber to the area reminds her of a tree trunk: TDS will introduce a network core and gradually branch out to neighborhoods, streets and homes. That core will be housed on a lot on West Sunup Avenue off Government Way, in a prebuilt facility that will be carried across the country and onto the lot.
Like the internet reach the company promises, the company’s hiring will be gradual and phased, Butman said. The company president explained TDS will first hire about 30 employees as technicians, laborers, salespeople and market specialists. Once the company settles in, Butman said TDS aspires to hire as many as 170 additional employees from the area gradually through the end of 2022.
“It’s really a wonderful opportunity,” Butman said. “There’s been a lot of planning for this, and I think wanting to come here is a compliment to Coeur d’Alene. It’s a beautiful area, of course, but we also appreciate a lot of characteristics in your workforce. We think your labor force [can do] what we’re looking to do as a company, in keeping with our history.”
Tuesday, May 14 — the day before TDS announced its expansion into North Idaho — was the 50th anniversary of the company’s first investment into the telephone and data industry.
Coeur d’Alene Council Member Dan Gookin voted in February against the city’s subsidy, but he said TDS’s decision this week to move into the region can help local customers through competitive pricing. Still, he cautioned that locals would see a benefit only to a point.
“Competition is good for the free market,” he said. “I think this shows that the free market system works, that companies can move forward without [government subsidy]. But what is the benefit of gigabit speed to a consumer? There isn’t any: They stream Netflix, download movies, play online games. That’s what the internet is for [residential] consumers these days, and we already have those choices.”
“I think gigabit speed is a gamechanger,” she said. “I think gigabit and broadband can be a life-changer for businesses who haven’t had access to those speeds before or had access at affordable prices. And it impacts students — not just in the schools, where we look to partner up with educators, but also at home, where [students] will have those same speeds or similar speeds. Having gigabit or broadband speed at home empowers students to network better, stream online courses easier … It really creates a whole community of learning.”
“We don’t go to places like Los Angeles or Chicago,” Butman said. “We go to the smaller markets that show real growth and real community potential. We believe in community, and we believe in building a strong community relationship. That means we keep the community well-informed and keep the public well-informed, that we have good notification. When it’s time to dig, we’ll make sure to notify every neighbor we impact. It’ll be right on their doors.
“This isn’t our first rodeo,” he said. “We’ve always strived for good community relations, not just from city governments, but from communities that really want this.”