No Network Connection
Montana is expansive, rugged, and wild. It’s the fourth-largest state in the nation, with fewer than a million residents. That is the very reason many of us choose to call it home.
It’s also the reason many residents are without basic cell and internet service.
As KTVH’s Mike Dennison reports, the underlying issue is economic. “Providers of these services can’t make a profit in rural areas unless they charge customers exorbitant prices to cover the cost, so they’re not likely to provide it without some form of government subsidy or assistance.”
The FCC dictates how federal dollars are distributed based on data maps complied by the big telecom providers. The maps are so inaccurate – often grossly overstating areas served – that MT Senator John Tester is now co-sponsoring a bill that would require internet service providers (ISPs) to give the FCC more in-depth data on coverage gaps.
The big carriers (Century Link and Spectrum) just cover the main corridors – highways and city centers. Lacking incentivization, they aren’t investing in rural areas. Out of necessity, smaller ISPs are working to fill in the gaps, and there are about a dozen of them in rural Montana. But the cost of infrastructure remains the issue.
Fiber optic cable networks average $1-$6 per foot, depending on the fiber count. They are expensive to install, and so are cell phone towers (which require a grounded network connection). Additionally, global cellular technology has advanced at a dizzying rate over the last 10 years, and each advancement typically requires new equipment.
Fiber infrastructure for small ISPs has been financed largely by universal-service funds and low-interest loans from the US Department of Agriculture. Montanans are counting on that federal funding, along with more accurate maps of coverage gaps, to run their businesses.
While we have made progress, we have a long way to go. Stay tuned for more info on network connectivity in the Last Best Place.
This blog post references an important three-part series on the status and future of high-speed internet and cell service in rural Montana by KTVH news. Read the full articles here:
Part 1: Access to high-speed Internet, cell service in rural Montana: A long ways from adequate
Part 2: Cell-phone service in Montana: Large chunks of the state still uncovered
Part 3: If cell-phone service and high-speed Internet are to be expanded in rural Montana, where might the money come from?