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Do the words broadband and Montana go together? They must! Even though many areas of Montana have superior quality broadband available (some is being utilized while some is sitting idle with little adoption of the service), it’s essential for all of the residents of our state to have access to broadband.

I attended a meeting in Kalispell hosted by the Montana Telecommunications Association that brought together a wide variety of broadband stakeholders and interested parties. The meeting participants talked about the current and future issues and needs for high-speed, quality broadband throughout the state and letting people know of the broadband infrastructure already deployed in many rural areas of the state.

The main conclusion of that meeting — and not surprisingly — reliable, sufficient high-speed broadband is critical to the stakeholders’ current and future productivity. Topics that surfaced ranged from what is sufficient; redundancy (redundancy is the ability to have continuous service if something happens to one of the routes); the lack of knowledge of federal programs available and the lack of available state programs; and who all should contribute to broadband development.

Many areas of Montana don’t have access to sufficient broadband and/or redundancy. This creates a great deal of hardship: go without, travel to acquire, spend a great deal of time doing what should take a brief time-frame. Productivity suffers in many aspects of Montanans' lives without quality broadband; whether it’s agriculture, education, health care, commerce and personal communications. Many areas of the state have fiber networks in place providing superior broadband to residences, schools, hospitals, emergency responders, businesses and government facilities.

Establishing an action plan to set broadband investment and adoption goals for the state with input from all broadband stakeholders would be a first step in widespread broadband adoption in Montana. In addition, educating stakeholders about broadband regarding the federal programs available to promote broadband investment and adoption would be essential. These include the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development/Rural Utilities Service e-Connectivity Pilot Program, Telemedicine and Distance Learning Program; FCC’s High Cost Program; Schools and Libraries Program; and the Rural Health Care Program, among others. Establishing a state clearinghouse that facilitates awareness of and access to broadband investment/access programs would be a terrific start to broadband investment and adoption in Montana. Broadband should be considered along with roads, bridges, water, sewer and electricity as critical infrastructure in Montana.

I feel very strongly that broadband needs our full attention. Establishing a broadband action plan leading to investment in and statewide adoption of quality broadband is to the betterment of the citizens of our great state and to the generations that follow. All people of Montana should have access to quality broadband that is scalable to fill future generation’s needs.

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Mary Hill of Raynesford is a Montana Farm Bureau Federation member in Judith Basin County. 

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