NFIB Montana Promoting Broadband Service to Unserved and Underserved Small Business

Date: February 21, 2022

From NFIB Montana State Director Ronda Wiggers

After a member recently questioned the wisdom of using a taxpayer subsidy to provide internet to rural areas of the state, it seemed an explanation of NFIB support was in order.

The federal government has recently appropriated two different bundles of money to Montana for broadband expansion. The first $275 million is coming via the ARPA funding passed in the spring of 2021, and the infrastructure bill, passed in the fall, added another $100 million. If Montana chooses to not use these funds, they will be distributed to other states.

During the 2021 session, the Montana Legislature, knowing this money was coming, gave guidance in how it is to be used. It created a committee to oversee the distribution of the funds and defined three types of areas where the money is to be used.

  • “Frontier area” means an area where there is no or extremely limited terrestrial broadband service.

  • “Unserved area” means a project area where at least 10% of delivery points have no access to broadband service or have no access to services operating with a download speed of at least 25 megabits per second and upload speed of at least 10 megabits per second with low latency.

  • “Underserved area” means an area where at least 10% of the delivery points have no access to broadband service offered with a download speed range of at least 100 megabits per second and an upload speed of at least 20 megabits per second or less with low latency.

After listening to the committee discussions, it became apparent that many Montanans have never had really good internet service and often believe the service we have is simply how it is supposed to work. If you are interested in testing your internet speed to see where you fall into the above categories, this link will show you.

At the end of the process, the proposals will come from internet providers to fill these gaps in service. NFIB is simply offering our stories as a suggestion of where the money needs to be spent, and how to best serve Montana’s small businesses. If you are willing to share your story, it will aid in our efforts to encourage affordable, reliable service to be provided across the entire state.

Estimated Timeline through Award

  • Decisions 2/7/22-4/6/22
  • Statewide application window 4/8/22
  • Applications available for public review 4/11/22-5/11/22
  • 30-day challenge period 5/26/22
  • DOA responses to challenges 5/30/2022-6/3/22
  • Applicants open to modify applications that were successfully challenged 6/30/22
  • Receive ARPA funds from US Treasury 6/6/22 – 7/5/22
  • Review final applications 7/6/22 Obligate and announce award

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