Missoulian: Montana to get $629 million

by Sam Wilson

Montana will get $629 million in federal funding for high-speed internet infrastructure, federal officials announced Monday.

The money comes from the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, which was created by the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by Congress in 2021. The program allocates a total of $42.5 billion in grants throughout the country for broadband construction, offsetting internet costs for low-income households and offering training programs.

It’s intended to prioritize affordable internet access for “unserved locations,” which it defines as those with less than 25 megabit-per-second download services and 3 Mbps uploads.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., was one of 10 lawmakers who negotiated the compromise legislation, called the “Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act,” in 2021. He was the only member of Montana’s congressional delegation to vote for the $1.2 trillion spending bill.

“Too often, people in Washington, D.C., don’t understand the challenges we face in Montana which is why I fought for this investment in my bipartisan infrastructure law to bring high-speed internet access to every corner of our state,” Tester said Monday in a written statement. “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.”

The funding will be deployed to an estimated 100,000 unserved locations across the state, according to a press release from Tester’s office.

All states were allocated a minimum of $100 million, with additional funding based on the number of unserved households and factors including population density, geography, topography and income.

Exactly how and where Montana’s $629 million gets spent will be worked out in the coming months. Montana has about six months to submit a proposal to the National Telecommunications and In-formation Administration for awarding the federal money.

Montana will get its first 20% of the money, or about $125 million, after the proposal is approved, according to Tester’s office. That money has to be spent on projects for which at least 80% of the households are considered unserved locations.

A final proposal is due one year later, and Montana will get the rest of the money when that is approved. Internet service providers that win grants will be required to complete construction and start providing service within four years of getting the money.

Last year, Montana divvied out $309 million to expand broadband access in the state through the ConnectMT program established by the Legislature in 2021. That funding was also federal in origin, part of $2 billion that flowed to the state through the American Rescue Plan Act, a stimulus bill passed in the wake of the COVID pandemic.

Montana to get $629 million (missoulian.com)