Feds announce $628 million Internet investment funding for Montana

Broadband crew.jpg
Posted at 12:24 PM, Jun 26, 2023

HELENA — The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has announced that Montana will receive $628,973,798.59 to deploy affordable, reliable high-speed Internet service.

According to NTIA, 104,534 homes and small businesses in Montana are currently lacking access to a high-speed Internet connection.

“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. Thanks to President Biden, today we're making the largest investment ever to deliver affordable, reliable Internet access to everyone in Montana,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo in a press release.

The funding is part of President Biden’s “Internet for All” initiative. The funding comes from the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), with $42.45 billion allocated to the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program for broadband internet investments across the nation. IIJA was brokered by a group of bipartisan senators, including Democrat Sen. Jon Tester, and was signed into law by Biden on Nov. 15, 2021. Tester voted in favor of the legislation, Republicans Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Matt Rosendale voted against the measure.

“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,” said Tester 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.”

Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte supported the investment in broadband in Montana. Expanding broadband and other telecommunications across the state has been a priority for his administration.

“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 be used to deploy or upgrade broadband networks. The intent is to ensure that everyone has access to reliable, affordable, high-speed Internet service. NTIA says once deployment goals are met, any remaining funding can be used on broadband adoption, training, and workforce development efforts, among other eligible uses.

The Gianforte administration says they have been preparing for this funding, with several grant applications already in the works.

“Access to reliable and affordable broadband in today’s economy is no longer a luxury, but a necessity. Montana lags behind other states in access to broadband, largely due to our state’s vast size and our beautiful, yet unique topography, making the cost of deployment significantly higher in comparison to other states,” Montana Department of Administration Director Misty Ann Giles said.

She continued, “This historic investment will allow us to close the gap and reach unserved and underserved Montanans with reliable high-speed internet. Montana has been ahead of the curve with its planning efforts in anticipation of today’s announcement, and we’ll keep the pace to receive the necessary approvals from our partners at the NTIA to successfully deploy these dollars.”

This month, the Communications Advisory Commission approved Montana’s 5-Year Action Plan, which DOA will submit to NTIA in July.