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The Department of Commerce announced on March 29 that Montana’s plan to expand broadband access throughout the state, with a focus on underserved communities, has received its approval. The approval will give Montana access to $6.9 million in federal funding to accomplish this goal.

The funding will come from the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, specifically the Digital Equity Act component of the law intended to help states in their efforts to narrow the digital divide.

“Families in Montana need the tools and skills required to make the most of that Internet connection, and that’s the $6.9 million opportunity we’re announcing today. President Biden’s digital equity initiative will make the promise of the Internet come alive for everyone in Montana, no matter where they live or what their background is,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in a release.

Montana submitted its Digital Opportunity Plan to the Commerce Department in 2023, outlining the challenges facing the state and its plan to address local issues with broadband. In the plan, the state’s broadband office said it hoped to address the availability of broadband, the cost for residents, and training in related digital skills and tools.

“With this approval, Montana is now able to compete for additional federal funds to bridge the digital divide and open doors to greater opportunities,” Gov. Greg Gianforte, a Republican, said in a statement announcing the funding.

The infrastructure law did not receive the support of the Republicans representing Montana in Congress when it was being debated. Both Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Matt Rosendale opposed the law. Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, backed the law.

In a 2022 statement, Tester’s office noted that he had secured the funds for broadband to address the needs of rural Montana residents.

“Reliable, affordable access to high-speed internet is key to the success of Montana’s students and small businesses in the 21st century,” Tester said. “For years rural America has lagged behind the rest of the nation in digital infrastructure, but my bipartisan infrastructure bill is changing that. Because of my work with five Republicans and four other Democrats, we’re ensuring that Montana’s economy continues to grow, and our next generation of leaders will have the tools they need to succeed for generations to come.”

In a 2023 survey of internet access speeds across the nation by HighSpeedInternet.com, Montana ranked as third from the bottom. The authors of the survey noted that along with Montana, the other states ranked at the bottom (Alaska, West Virginia, and Idaho) are mostly rural.

The Federal Communications Commission said in 2021 that at least 9.3 million people in rural communities across the U.S. had inadequate access to broadband. In addition to $65 billion for broadband deployment in the infrastructure law, the American Rescue Plan, signed into law by President Joe Biden in 2021, included funding for broadband. Montana received that funding in 2022.

As it did on the infrastructure law, Montana’s Republican congressional representatives voted against the Rescue Plan. Tester voted for it.

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