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Federal Funds Made to Create Stronger Broadband Infrastructure Across Montana

Montana Public Affairs Network
Montana Department of Commerce Director Scott Osterman briefs a special legislative commission about Treasure State broadband connectivity on June 8, 2021

State officials are laying the foundation to spend $275 million in federal funds to increase internet connectivity across Montana. It’s the state’s first widespread government-sponsored broadband program.

A special legislative advisory commission met for the first time Tuesday to consider a timeline for its work, which will include recommending broadband projects funded by the latest round of federal coronavirus relief.

Though only covering about a quarter of what’s needed to fully build out connectivity across Montana, State Commerce Director Scott Osterman said the $275 million windfall and other funding streams present a massive opportunity for the state.

“This opportunity will not pass by us again, not this way. We only have one chance to get it right, so time is of the essence,” Osterman said.

Roughly one fifth of Montanans lack adequate or affordable broadband connectivity, according to the state Department of Commerce.

The department will hire an executive director in coming weeks to lead a broadband task force that will map Montana’s internet deserts to figure out where money should go.

Private companies and local governments are expected to begin submitting grant proposals later this year. Federal aid must be spent by 2027.

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