Nicole Girten

(Daily Montana) Gov. Greg Gianforte approved $309 million in federal funding for broadband expansion, saying Wednesday the projects will prioritize both unserved and underserved communities in Montana.

The governor signed off on more than 60 projects that will allocate federal stimulus funds to programs throughout Montana that were finalized last week by the ARPA Communications Advisory Commission.

“Montana lags other states in access to broadband,” Gianforte said at a press conference at the Capitol. “The digital divide is even greater in Montana’s rural communities, where three in five Montanans do not have access to broadband.”

Gianforte said these projects will provide service to nearly 62,000 homes, businesses and farms and ranches in Montana, “particularly in rural Montana.” The governor, a Republican, also said access to broadband enables rural health care via telemedicine, access to education for students and jobs for teleworkers.

Gianforte said 38,000 of the homes that are anticipated to receive broadband connection are in currently unserved communities, 22,000 are in underserved communities, and 1,300 are in especially remote frontier communities.

Gianforte said these funds would be going out to these projects early in the next year. The deadline for funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to be dispersed is Dec. 31, 2026. The full list of projects is available on the ConnectMT website

Smaller, local providers in the state have voiced concerns over broadband contracts going to big corporations like Charter Communications, which operates Spectrum and received about a third of the overall funding.

As reported by the Montana Free Press, the owner of KDS Fiber out of Great Falls wrote to the ARPA Communications Commission that his business may be crushed by his competition receiving this additional funding.