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Funding and new rules help expand broadband

Internet service expanding in rural Montana
Stock photo and footage/Getty Images/iStockphoto
Internet service expanding in rural Montana

New funding from the feds plus rule changes for the Bureau of Land Management expected to improve internet access in rural Montana.

Seventeen percent of Montana residents are underserved when it comes to broadband internet service, according to the Montana Broadband Office. As YPR’s Orlinda Worthington reports, new funding and rule changes for the Bureau of Land Management are expected to improve that situation.

Affordable, high speed internet is closer to becoming a reality for those in rural or underserved areas of Montana.

The state will receive seven million dollars as part of the “Internet for All” initiative, part of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda.

Plus, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced updates Friday to their regulations to make it easier to develop and operate broadband infrastructure on public lands.

Adam Carr is the BLM Supervisory Land Use Specialist for Montana and the Dakotas. He says the rule changes address three areas that will help improve internet access.

“Rights of way across BLM managed public lands for broadband infrastructure. Then the cost recovery of fees for processing any type of right away application. And then lastly, it's touching on power line rights of ways across BLM land,” Carr said.

Currently, BLM manages 51 communication sites across the state of Montana, and has several hundred miles of power line infrastructure that could also serve to expand broadband through co-location of a fiber optic line.

“We do expect to see an increase in applications tenfold from what we have been. So, you know, that could be 20 to 40 applications per year through 2030 is a kind of a rough projection of what we might receive. So there's quite a bit of improvement that could be had for Montanans and this new rule should help that,” Carr said.

In Billings, I’m Orlinda Worthington.

Orlinda Worthington hosts “Morning Edition” weekdays on YPR. She brings 20 years of experience as Montana television news anchor, producer, and reporter.