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Bill To Offer Tax Relief For Broadband Infrastructure Moves Forward In Montana House

Montana Republican Rep. Becky Beard opens debate on Senate Bill 51 on the House floor March 16, 2021.
Montana Public Affairs Network
Montana Republican Rep. Becky Beard opens debate on Senate Bill 51 on the House floor March 16, 2021.

A bill that would provide tax relief to telecommunications companies that install broadband infrastructure in Montana is one step closer to being signed into law.

Elliston Republican Rep. Becky Beard said incentivizing companies to lay high-speed internet infrastructure would create jobs and economic activity in a state that currently ranks among the nation’s worst in broadband access.

“We have to have high-speed internet to function competitively. Even ask our schools about this necessity. It’s been a lifeline for so many of us," Beard said.

Senate Bill 51 would provide a five year tax abatement for companies that lay fiber or coaxial cable, provided they use savings to install more cable. The exemption would phase out 20% per year, with infrastructure being taxed at 100% of its value 10 years after installation.

Missoula Democratic Rep. Mark Thane opposed the bill, saying it doesn’t prioritize rural and tribal communities hit hardest by the digital divide.

"Under this bill additional cabling, which may be redundant service for those urban communities, will qualify for tax incentives," Thane said.

The House gave initial approval to the bill on nearly party lines Tuesday. It faces another vote before moving to the desk of Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte, who included the proposal in his Montana Comeback Plan released on the campaign trail.

During a press conference, Democratic legislative leaders teased several broadband-related bills coming soon from their caucus that will tap incoming federal coronavirus relief funds.

Kevin Trevellyan is Yellowstone Public Radio's Report for America statehouse reporter.