Huge Broadband Project to link Missoula, Bitterroot, and Big Hole Valleys
Montana's scenic Big Hole Valley has plenty of mosquitos, but absolutely no broadband access outside of a few cell phone signals.
Senator Jon Tester announced the $12-million dollar Thursday, saying funding had been secured under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The news comes a week after Tester announced Montana would receive $119 million to finally bring broadband Internet access to 61,000 thousand residents who've never had that chance.
Announcing the "Sapphire Ring"
The "Sapphire Ring" will be a joint effort to install 137 miles of new "middle mile broadband" fiber optic cable, effectively "ringing" the Sapphire Mountains. That will allow connections in the Missoula and Bitterroot valleys where broadband hasn't been available, but more importantly, brings access to ranches and businesses in the Big Hole Valley for the first time.
The name is also a clever spin on the beautiful gemstones in the Sapphire Range and the jewelry made by Montana companies.
In all, Senator Tester says 42 communities surrounding the Sapphires will be able to connect for business, education, and other Internet use.
“As a third-generation farmer who’s lived in rural Montana my whole life, I know that access to high-speed internet is a game-changer,” said Tester in a statement. “Completing the Sapphire Ring project will connect thousands of folks to high-speed internet, create good-paying Montana jobs, and ensure that Western Montana’s families and small businesses are able to compete in the 21st century."
Montana businesses will do the installation
Senator Tester notes the project will involve two smaller Montana companies. The Blackfoot Telephone Cooperative and the Southern Montana Telephone Company will be building the network, which will touch six different counties when it's finished.
Last week, Tester's office announced $ 47 million had been secured for high-speed Internet projects in Flathead, Lincoln, Valley, Phillips, Roosevelt, and Sheridan counties, helping 3,000 Montana residents and 150 businesses with broadband access options.