HELENA — Montana leaders are asking the public to share information about their internet needs and access, as they continue their efforts to expand broadband service in the state.
The Montana Department of Administration has released a survey, asking people about their current home internet service and speed, how they use the internet and what obstacles they have to accessing high-speed service. Leaders ask that only Montana residents aged 18 or older complete the survey.
In addition, consultants will hold a series of public meetings over the next two weeks to hear feedback on internet access in Montana. They’ll visit six cities:
- Billings: Wednesday, Sept. 7, 8 to 9 a.m., DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Billings, 27 N. 27th St.
- Glendive: Thursday, Sept. 8, 8 to 9 a.m., Holiday Inn Express & Suites Glendive, 1919 N. Merrill Ave.
- Glasgow: Friday, Sept. 9, 8 to 9 a.m., Cottonwood Inn & Suites, 54250 U.S. Highway 2
- Kalispell: Monday, Sept. 12, 8 to 9 a.m., Hampton Inn Kalispell, 1140 U.S. Highway 2 W.
- Great Falls: Tuesday, Sept. 13, 8 to 9 a.m., Heritage Inn, 1700 Fox Farm Rd,
- Helena: Wednesday, Sept. 14, 8 to 9 a.m., Wingate by Wyndham Helena Airport, 2007 N. Oakes St.
Leaders plan another tour around the state in the coming months.
In the announcement of the survey, the Department of Administration said the information will be key to understanding what Montanans need and how to increase access in the state.
“It is estimated that nearly 24% of Montanans do not have an internet subscription of any kind,” they said. “As such, this research is crucial to increasing connectivity and bridging the digital divide to better connect residents connected for school, work, and staying in touch with friends and family.”
This comes as state leaders are deciding how to spend about $260 million in federal funding for upgrading high-speed internet service – and looking at applying for even more.
Montana’s ARPA director is currently going over rankings for 75 projects that have applied for a share of the first round of American Rescue Plan Act funding. The state ARPA Communications Advisory Commission will make recommendations to Gov. Greg Gianforte on how to award that money.
In addition, the state is planning to apply for additional funding through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Under that law, each state is entitled to at least $100 million for broadband improvements, with more available based on their plan and their demonstrated need – and leaders are hopeful Montana will qualify for significantly more.