A nearly $1 million grant is expected to provide better internet access to some rural customers of Custer Telephone Cooperative.

Custer Telephone worked with the city of Challis to apply for, and receive, the grant, co-op General Manager JD Bennetts said. It was paid off with a $993,585 grant which will pay to extend fiber optic connections to 88 households on and around Challis Creek Road.

“We had planned to do this project anyways,” Bennetts said. Earlier this summer fiber cables were laid along Challis Creek Road and some side roads, “and the state knew that.”

The money comes from a $48.9 million grant from the state, going to 102 broadband projects. Carmen residents are part of the project, too, with 189 households there pegged to get wireless coverage from a $548,000 grant. The money comes from federal funds the state got under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, slated for projects “that support improved broadband infrastructure, equipment, and services,” Gov. Brad Little’s office said in a press release.

The Idaho Department of Commerce said the project will help the Upper Carmen Public Charter School improve its distance learning capabilities. The school is providing a $10,000 match. It is supported by Steele Memorial Medical Center and the Salmon school district, where 20 percent of students do not have access to reliable broadband.

Next in Challis, Bennetts said, is to get wires into customer’s homes. That should take a few months. Because the coronavirus makes it more difficult for installers to go door-to-door, it could be slow going.