Flathead Beacon: Montana Receives $628 million to Expand High-Speed Internet Access

by Denali Sagner

The state of Montana will receive more than $628 million to expand access to affordable high-speed internet as a part of the federal Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program.

The program, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), is a pillar of the Biden administration’s “Internet for All” initiative, which funds planning, infrastructure development and internet adoption programs across the country.

“Montanans know the economic benefits that high-speed internet access can bring, whether it’s increased educational opportunities, improvements to farming, or access to telehealth,” U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said in a press release this week. “Today we’re making the largest investment ever to deliver affordable, reliable internet access to everyone in Montana.”

According to a five-year action plan that the state of Montana will submit to NTIA next month, 18% of Montanans are either unserved or underserved by broadband internet access. Accessibility issues are particularly acute for Montana’s rural residents, who make up about 61% of the state’s population.

Flathead County is one of the seven counties that make up the majority of un- and underserved internet locations in the state, alongside Sanders, Missoula, Yellowstone, Lewis and Clark, Gallatin and Ravalli counties.

“As a third-generation farmer from Northcentral Montana, I know firsthand how important high speed internet access is to our rural communities and growing economy,” Montana’s U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said in a press release. “I’m proud to have secured this funding for Montana that will create good paying jobs and ensure that Montana small businesses are able to compete in the 21st century.”

According to a press release from the office of Gov. Greg Gianforte, months of local outreach and coordination informed the five-year plan that the state will submit to NTIA, which included two statewide road shows, a tribal summit, a statewide internet survey and interviews with community stakeholders and telecommunication providers.

“Lack of broadband access shouldn’t stand between Montanans and opportunities for a good-paying job, greater education, and affordable, high-quality health care,” Gianforte said. “This generational funding will support Montana as we close the digital divide and open the doors to greater opportunities for all Montanans.”

The BEAD funding will help expand internet access in northwest Montana alongside a $12 million U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant awarded to InterBel Telepone Cooperative in Eureka earlier this month, which will be used to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises high-speed internet network to more than 900 rural residents, 36 businesses and 11 farms in Lincoln and Flathead counties.

Montana Receives $628 million to Expand High-Speed Internet Access – Flathead Beacon