It's not a complete solution to Montana's broadband problems, yet. But the federal dollars are starting to flow as part of new efforts to get more rural Montana households access to the Internet.

Thursday's announcement comes just days after the government finally released maps detailing where the "dark spots" are on Montana's broadband network.

Senator Jon Tester and his Congressional colleagues had worked for years to get the Federal Communications Commission to complete maps showing people are still without broadband Internet access in 2023, thirty YEARS after many urban residents started to use the 'Net.

"We encouraged the FCC to come up with some maps. This has been the years-long project," Tester told me. "So that people who didn't have access to broadband before, because the maps, that's what the maps show, who's has coverage, who doesn't have coverage, who has access to broadband, who doesn't, and then we can start laying fiber in those areas. That, like I said,  are either are underserved or not served at all.

Just hours after we spoke, Tester's office announced the first of what is expected to be a series of funding announcements starting the broadband buildout. In this case, $119 million to bring high-speed Internet to 61,000 rural residents across Montana. The money is from the American Rescue Plan, previewing what will be coming from last year's massive Infrastructure bill.

"During my whole lifetime, I've watched rural America decline in population. This is going to give rural America, rural Montana, and frontier Montana a real opportunity to get people living back in some of these small communities and increase their vibrancy. Because so much business is done on the Internet. This will give folks, once they get connected up, the opportunity to do that business. Anywhere in the world. Including rural Montana."

White spots showing no coverage in rural Montana;
White spots showing no coverage in rural Montana;

Maps will show where money should be spent

"We don't want folks building, putting in broadband, where good broadband already exists. So from a standpoint of how we're spending the taxpayer dollars getting the biggest bang for the buck. These maps were a critical component. And I think it's a step, a giant step to get Montana connected across the board," Tester emphasized. 

If you'd like to see where you fall on the new broadband maps, here's the link.

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