Montana’s broadband network growing at unprecedented pace, transforming rural communities

2016 State of Rural Broadband report details rural initiatives to conquer Montana’s divide


Key highlights:

  • $248.6 million invested in broadband networks by Montana’s rural telecoms since 2011.
  • Per-customer, fiber backbone more than 550x more expensive to construct in rural Montana than in Seattle.
  • 100% of Montana’s rural schools to be connected to fiber by end of year 2017.

Helena, Montana, October 18, 2016 — Despite low population and vast geography, Montana’s rural areas — and the people who live there — are experiencing an unprecedented transformation of economic opportunity, health care and education thanks to broadband investment from rural telecom providers. That’s the key takeaway from a first-of-its-kind report on rural broadband initiatives in Montana, issued today by the Montana Telecommunications Association.

“Conquering Montana’s Divide: A Report on the State of Rural Broadband” details initiatives undertaken by the MTA’s nine member companies and cooperatives to deploy world-class fiber infrastructure and provide vital broadband services to Montanans who live outside the state’s large population centers.

“Our members serve areas of the state where cows and deer greatly outnumber houses and businesses,” said Geoff Feiss, general manager of the MTA. “Yet as this report shows, we’re connecting rural Montanans to the kinds of advanced communications services and plentiful bandwidth that they’ll need to thrive in the 21st century.”

The report starkly outlines the unique challenges faced by providers in Montana. MTA member companies serve fewer people across all of Montana than a Seattle provider could serve in just 12 square miles. Due to such differences in population density and construction expenses, the cost to build out fiber optic backbone networks in rural Montana is more than 550 times greater than in a population center like Seattle, on a per-person basis.

To meet these challenges, the MTA’s nine member companies collectively have spent $248.6 million on new fiber infrastructure since 2011, focusing first on reaching schools, businesses, hospitals and clinics.

Today, 78 percent of Montana schools already meet or exceed the near-term federally recommended bandwidth standard of 100 kilobits per student. MTA’s members have committed to provide every school they serve with fiber internet connections by the end of 2017. (In the case of eight very remote schools that serve a total of 17 students, high-speed point-to-point wireless connections may be utilized instead.) As a result, all Montana schools will be capable of meeting the Federal Communications Commission’s long-term bandwidth goal of 1 mbps per student.

In several cases Montana’s rural telecom providers have already surpassed the progress of providers in large communities around the state and nation.

“MTA member companies are investing in tomorrow’s technologies today, ensuring that rural Montanans have access to world-class opportunities while living in the world’s Last Best Place,” Feiss said.

Concurrent with the release of the new report, the Montana Telecommunications Association unveiled a new website, www.BroadbandMT.com, which contains additional information about rural broadband issues in Montana.

About the Montana Telecommunications Association
Based in Helena, the Montana Telecommunications Association represents nine member companies and cooperatives that together deliver state-of-the-art digital voice, video, wireless, internet and other telecommunications products and services to approximately 200,000 rural Montanans. Members are: 3 Rivers Communications (Fairfield), Blackfoot (Missoula), InterBel Telephone Cooperative (Eureka), Lincoln Telephone Company (Lincoln), Nemont Telephone Cooperative (Scobey), Northern Telephone Cooperative (Sunburst), Range (Forsyth), Southern Montana Telephone Company (Wisdom) and Triangle Communications (Havre).