Tag: "montana"

Posted August 25, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio

Join us live on Thursday, August 25th, at 5pm ET for the latest episode of the Connect This! Show. Co-hosts Christopher Mitchell (ILSR) and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) will be joined by regular guests Kim McKinley (UTOPIA Fiber) and Doug Dawson (CCG Consulting). They'll dig into recent news - from big cable companies and telcos going after BEAD grants, to the announcement of 25 Gigabit per second service across the footprint of Chattanooga's municipal network, to the future of streaming video, to a reflective look on how well (or not) we did with the broadband stimulus.

Email us broadband@muninetworks.org with feedback and ideas for the show.

Subscribe to the show using this feed or find it on the Connect This! page, watch on YouTube Live, on Facebook live, or below.

Posted August 23, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

Although disappointing for advocates of local Internet choice weary of monopoly providers working to stifle competition, what we are seeing coming out of Montana’s state broadband grant program, Connect MT, shouldn’t be all that surprising.

Last week we learned that the state’s Department of Administration had recommended that nearly half of the Connect MT funding – $126 million – be awarded to Charter Communications, which has been aggressively lobbying Montana legislators (and funding campaigns in opposition to community broadband proposals in other states).

It did not go unnoticed by Montana Free Press deputy editor Eric Dietrich who recently reported that the recommended award to Charter “has plowed into rocky ground as (the state) considers a list of recommended projects this month.”

‘Not Perfect by Any Means’

The story raises questions about the state’s ranking system for proposed projects and notes that the lion’s share of grant money being recommended for Charter “has drawn the ire of smaller, Montana-based companies that want more support for their own networks.”

In hearings this month, Department of Administration Director Misty Ann Giles, the committee’s vice-chair, described the $258 million program as a learning experience for the state government, which hasn’t previously managed a large broadband program. The scoring system the department used to rank applications, she said at an Aug. 2 meeting, ‘is not perfect by any means.’

‘This is a first-in-kind program for the state of Montana, so there’s definitely some lessons learned,’ Giles said.

Giles and committee chair Sen. Jason Ellsworth, R-Hamilton, have also said the state will have the chance to fine-tune its awards process and fund additional projects as it works through additional federal broadband money it expects to receive through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

After passage of the American Rescue Plan Act, the Republican-controlled Montana Legislature established advisory committees to make recommendations to the governor about how the state’s Rescue Plan funds should be spent on infrastructure, including broadband.

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Posted December 14, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio

A year after a group of local broadband champions got together to see how they could improve Internet access in Missoula, Montana, the Missoula Valley Internet Cooperative has successfully raised funds and designed, deployed, and launched a wireless mesh network delivering 150 Megabit per second (Mbps) symmetrical service to more than 50 of 550 pre-registered households for, on average, $40-60/month. The community-owned option has injected some welcome competition to a stagnant local broadband market, with a second network already in the planning stages in a community to the north.

Both efforts are being driven by the Pacific Northwest Rural Broadband Alliance (PNWRBA), a Missoula, Montana-based nonprofit aiming to build resiliency, local capacity, and expand quality Internet access to the region by making use of a variety of community-oriented business models. The nonprofit serves not only to coordinate grassroots organizing efforts, but provide technical assistance and lead policy engagement with local leaders. It is running a dual mission. First, to bring faster and more affordable Internet access via a community-owned model to the area. And second, to prove out a series of models in the region with the hopes of generating additional community-based approaches to improving broadband in the region and beyond.

Grant Creek 

At present, the Missoula Valley Internet Cooperative covers Missoula’s (pop. 74,000) Grant Creek neighborhood, a roughly one and a half square-mile area (see right) of 400 households bounded by the Clark Fork River and Highway 90. But the eventual plan is to cover all of Missoula before expanding to cover East Missoula, Bonner, and Clinton, and then head south toward Lolo. The total proposed coverage area (see below) is reminiscent of the shape of the state of Florida, about 30 miles wide and 50 miles long, with the city of Missoula at the northeast corner and including the cities and towns along the T-shape made by Interstate 90 and State Highway 93. 

In its first service area the network provides Internet access...

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Posted November 1, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

UTOPIA Fiber continues to grow and is now exporting its expertise into Bozeman, Montana – one of the fastest-growing cities of its size and often listed among the best places to live in the country.

Referred to by some as “Boz Angeles” because of the influx of Californians to the area, this Rocky Mountain city of 53,000, nestled in Gallatin Valley, is about to become even more attractive as a rising tech hub for millennials. At the Broadband Communities 2021 Summit last month, it was announced that Bozeman Fiber, a non-profit organization created by the city to expand high-speed Internet connectivity across the region, has partnered with Utah-based UTOPIA Fiber to build an open access fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network.

Bozeman Fiber has already built an open access fiber ring, serving city, county, and school facilities. It has also connected 200 commercial customers. The partnership with UTOPIA will allow Bozeman Fiber to extend the network across the city, passing 22,000 homes and businesses, with plans to extend further out into the more rural parts of Gallatin County down the road.

Network construction, which is estimated to cost $65 million, is slated to begin in the spring of 2022 and is expected to take three years to be completed.

“This is the first phase of a project that will cover the city and some areas of the county, and the intention is we’ll have future phases that reach further out into the county to hit more rural areas,” UTOPIA Fiber executive director Roger Timmerman said during the press conference announcing the partnership.

Bozeman Fiber CEO Greg Metzger added: “with this project, we’ll be able to attract and retain more businesses, and create jobs.”

County Provides Access to Bond Market

To finance the network construction, Bozeman Fiber has partnered with the Gallatin...

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Posted October 19, 2021 by Sean Gonsalves

With American Rescue Plan funds flowing into state government coffers, about a third of the nation’s 50 states have announced what portion of their Rescue Plan dollars are being devoted to expanding access to high-speed Internet connectivity.

The federal legislation included $350 billion for states to spend on water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure, though everything we have seen suggests that the vast majority of that will not go to broadband. There is also another $10 billion pot of rescue plan funds, called the Capital Projects Fund, that mostly must be used to expand access to broadband.

Laboratories of Broadband-ification 

As expected, each state is taking their own approach. California is making a gigantic investment in middle-mile infrastructure and support for local Internet solutions while Maryland is making one of the biggest investments in municipal broadband of any other state in the nation. And although Colorado does not prioritize community-driven initiatives, state lawmakers there have earmarked $20 million for Colorado’s two federally-recognized Indian tribes to deploy broadband infrastructure with another $15 million devoted to boosting telehealth services in the state.     

Undoubtedly, individual states’ funding priorities vary. Some states may be relying on previously allocated federal investments to boost broadband initiatives and/or have been persuaded the private sector alone will suffice in solving its connectivity challenges. And in some states, such as Illinois, Minnesota, and Maine, lawmakers have prioritized using state funds to support broadband expansion efforts while other states may be waiting on the infrastructure bill now making its way through Congress before making major broadband funding decisions.

As of this writing, 17 states have earmarked a portion of their Rescue Plan money (totaling about $7.6 billion) to address the digital divide within their borders. Those states are Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Missouri, Virginia, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.

A handful of those states are making major investments to boost broadband with an emphasis on community-driven solutions where local governments, public entities, and non-profit organizations can...

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Posted July 26, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

New Jersey establishes state committee to strategize deployment of community broadband networks

Louisiana Senate amends bill, opening state grant program to municipally-owned providers

Washington laws expanding municipal authority to provide retail service take effect

The State Scene

New Jersey 

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, on July 7, enacted legislation (A.B. 850) establishing a new state committee tasked with evaluating where community broadband networks should be established across the state, by surveying areas where public networks would be most feasible to deploy.

The 19-member Broadband Access Study Commission “will consider the logistics of deploying community broadband networks and report on its findings to the Governor and the Legislature,” reports ROI NJ. “The mission includes completing a comprehensive study of the success and failures of similar networks around the nation, the costs of constructing and maintaining networks, and the costs to subscribers for monthly access.” 

The Commission will also evaluate impediments to broadband access in the state, including those related to physical access, affordability, and digital literacy. After submitting recommendations to the state Governor and Legislature, the committee will dissolve within a year of its first meeting. 

Louisiana 

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards recently signed a bill (H.B. 648) allocating $180 million of incoming federal relief funds toward establishing a grant program - open to both public and private broadband providers - aimed at jumpstarting the buildout of Internet infrastructure to unserved communities across the Bayou State. 

Before the bill passed the Louisiana Senate, it was amended to remove an exclusion that would have required local governments using the grants to contract with...

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Posted June 7, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

Michigan broadband package repeals law prohibiting state grants from going to government entities

Montana Legislature duplicates federal limitations against schools and library self-constructing networks

U.S. House Republicans bill would give USDA authority over rural broadband, in place of FCC 

The State Scene 

Michigan

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive directive on Wednesday establishing the Michigan High-Speed Internet (MIHI) Office, a new state office tasked with developing a strategy to make high-speed Internet more accessible to Michiganders. 

Gov. Whitmer has argued that more than $2.5 billion in potential economic benefit is left unrealized each year due to a lack of Internet access across the state. MIHI will be housed inside the state’s Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO). Speaking of the new office, LEO Acting Director Susan Corbin said, “We need to make major investments to support digital inclusion and this office will be focused on leveraging every dollar available through the American Recovery Plan and other federal programs,” reports WILX.

Michigan lawmakers are moving to answer Corbin’s call and recently proposed a $400 million one-time allocation of incoming federal relief funds to the newly created MIHI to work toward expanding access to broadband. With the funds, LEO would be tasked with maintaining a statewide broadband grant program, the Connecting Michigan Communities Broadband Grant. 

The legislative package [pdf] would allow the state to “award grant money to a governmental entity or educational institution or an affiliate or a public/private partnership, to own, purchase, construct, operate, or maintain a communications network.” The legislation calls for prioritizing projects that will provide discounted Internet service to low-income households and projects that “demonstrate collaboration to achieve community investment and...

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Posted May 4, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

Nebraska Senate rejects amendment supporting municipal broadband in spending plan

Michigan Governor vetoes bill granting private ISPs property tax exemptions

Montana, Iowa and Maine channel Rescue Plan funds towards new broadband grant initiatives

 

The State Scene

Nebraska

The Nebraska Senate approved a plan to spend $40 million over the next two years on expanding rural access to high-speed Internet by a unanimous vote on Tuesday, but only after an amendment to L.B. 388 that would have allowed municipalities to offer retail broadband services was rejected.

State Sen. Justin Wayne introduced the amendment, saying that “broadband should be considered a critical infrastructure need and that private telecommunications companies have not stepped up to serve the whole state,” the Lincoln Journal Star reports.

Wayne urged Nebraska Senators “to look to Nebraska's history of public power as a model, as well as to the example of other states that are allowing cities to offer broadband.” The amendment ultimately failed by a vote of 20-24. Wayne assured fellow Senators that he will reintroduce the amendment in the future. 

The bill marked the first time the Nebraska Legislature has suggested using state tax dollars to fund broadband deployment. As it was submitted to Gov. Pete Ricketts for his signature, the bill would annually allocate, until funds run out, $20 million in grants to projects that increase access to high-speed broadband in unserved regions of Nebraska. It would prioritize projects in regions which lack access to Internet service with speeds of at least 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download/3 Mbps upload. Grant recipients would be required to deploy networks capable of providing service of at least 100/100 Mbps within 18 months. 

 

Michigan

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed H.B. 4210 on April 14, a bill which would have granted...

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Posted March 15, 2021 by Jericho Casper

This is the first in an ongoing series of state legislative roundups of bills that advance the prospects of success for community broadband networks. Feel free to reach out to Jericho Casper with tips or corrections.

High-Speed Hirings - Your Mission, Should You Choose To Accept It

Investments in broadband infrastructure at the municipal level are on the rise, creating more employment opportunities in the broadband industry. Advocates for municipal broadband who feel called to make a change in their communities should check out these job openings:

Dayton, TX

Applications are being accepted for a Broadband Manager/Head Network Engineer to oversee the business and technical operations of DayNet — a new Internet utility emerging in Dayton, Texas — in the process of constructing a citywide Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network.

Whatcom County, Washington

Applications are being accepted for two positions currently open at Whatcom County PUD: Broadband Services Analyst and Electric Utility Analyst.

The State Scene

From coast to coast, state lawmakers are aiming to create centralized broadband clearinghouses and improve permitting processes. Here’s a snapshot: 

New Mexico Legislature Seeks Reforms to Craft State Broadband Plan

With merely five days remaining in the state's legislative session, New Mexico legislators are pushing to advance bills that would set up a centralized body within the state government tasked with improving Internet access.

One of the first bills introduced during the 2021 legislative session, Senate Bill 93, the Broadband Access and Expansion Act, passed the state Senate last Wednesday, by a vote of 33-6, calling for the creation of a new Office of Broadband Access and Expansion. Padilla believed passing through the Senate...

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Posted February 10, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio

Last week we published a new case study report on four Native Nations (the Coeur d’Alene, the Nez Perce, the Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe, and the St. Regis Mohawk) who set out to build their own broadband networks after being left behind for decades by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the region. At the same time, we launched a new resource documenting existing Native Nations Networks with some key resources for others in Indian Country considering their own.

Read more from report author H. Trostle in a recent article in High Country News about the goals of the study, the connectivity challenges for tribes, the importance of Spectrum Sovereignty in getting those communities connected, and the creativity and persistence it has taken to get these networks off the ground so that those communities have opportunities to live, learn, and work online. 

Two recent pieces from American Public Media’s Marketplace Tech add welcome additional emphasis on the importance of these issues. The first, published Monday, profiles the progress made in building a wireless network by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Northwest Montana, bringing broadband to 1,300 square miles in the region, and one of the first success stories to come out in part as a result of the FCC’s 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Priority Window last year. 

The second, an interview with Matthew Rantanen, Director of Technology at the Southern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association, highlights just how big the need is for connectivity solutions for Indian Country. With Molly Wood, he discusses the possibilities offered by the new administration and the potential impact of the $1 billion in funds in the current version of the Coronavirus...

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