Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) With the push to expand broadband service across the state now in full swing, Blackfoot Communication on Thursday announced plans to invest $76 million in extending its fiber network.

The bulk of that funding – around $60 million – stems from state grants awarded through its ConnectMT program. The remainder will be provided by Blackfoot.

“Access to high-speed internet is essential for businesses, education and families, and these grants help us reach underserved communities in western Montana,” said company CEO Jason Williams.

Blackfoot's efforts will focus primarily on rural areas of western Montana and will begin this spring and take roughly three years to complete.

The company received its grants to deliver service to Missoula, Ravalli, Granite and Sanders counties, along with the towns of Darby, Drummond, Philipsburg, Plains and Potomac.

The company said its network will provide speeds of 1 Gbps or more.

“As a Montana-based company with nearly 70-years of experience building and operating networks, we look forward to continuing to help strengthen rural communities across western Montana and connecting more Montana businesses, schools and homes to fast, reliable broadband,” said Williams.

This year, the city and county of Missoula also signed a cable franchise with TDS Metrocom, which is now deploying broadband service in Missoula. That investment will provide speeds of around 8Gigs, though the buildout will also take several years.

Williams said Blackfoot has invested nearly $50 million in fiber-based broadband infrastructure across Montana since 2017. That includes service in Thompson Falls, St. Ignatius and Anaconda, along with areas around Georgetown Lake.

The timing of such investments is key as the digital age gains momentum and threatens to leave unserved or underserved areas behind.

According to the Federal Communications Commission, Montana ranks low among states with broadband access, with nearly 1 in 3 residents lacking access to high-speed internet.

“Blackfoot is working hard to reverse this trend and is committed to building out fiber-based broadband to its entire Montana service territory, which covers 5,000 square miles,” the company said in its announcement.