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State accepting apps to use $266M for expanding high-speed Internet

Broadband money from Dem-passed ARPA law
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Posted at 2:21 PM, Feb 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-07 19:48:50-05

HELENA — Montana is now accepting applications for projects to expand high-speed Internet services into underserved areas, using $266 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds, Gov. Greg Gianforte announced Monday.

“With this investment, Montanans will have greater access to opportunities for employment, health care and education, and business in every corner of our state will be able to grow, prosper and create more good-paying Montana jobs,” the governor said in a statement.

Private companies or co-ops with “demonstrated experience” in providing high-speed Internet or other communication services to residential and business customers in Montana will eligible to apply for the awards. The applicants also must finance at least 20 percent of the cost of the project themselves and can partner with local or tribal governments – but the match cannot come from those governments.

Applications are due April 7. The state Department of Administration will be evaluating and deciding which projects are funded.

The state also has just released a statewide broadband map that identifies the unserved, underserved and “frontier” areas of Montana that are targets of the funding. The map also shows where current federal funding is already committed to reaching those areas. “Frontier” areas are rural parts of Montana with no Internet service at all or a very limited speed. Unserved and underserved areas have some form of Internet service, but at speeds usually considered less than high-speed.

The $266 million is from the American Rescue Plan Act, passed by congressional Democrats last March. The 2021 Montana Legislature set aside the broadband money as part of the state’s discretionary share of ARPA funds.

But that money won’t be the only funds available to finance expansion of high-speed Internet in Montana, where about one-third of the population doesn’t have access to broadband service. Additional ARPA money may going into Montana’s broadband-expansion pot, and the state will be getting at least another $100 million for the federal infrastructure bill passed by Congress last summer.