Hanna Hislop

RONAN (KPAX) - The Biden Administration announced earlier this month that two Montana tribes were being awarded a combined $74 million to expand high-speed internet on their land.

It was a major announcement and will have major impacts for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) which, one of the recipients.

“When I first found out about it, it was like, you know, we're finally going to hopefully level the playing field," said Ronan Schools Superintendent Mark Johnston. "High-speed internet shouldn't be a luxury. It should be offered to everybody.”

High-speed internet, or the lack thereof, is something that Johnston says has affected many of their students and families. It's a gap made even more clear when classes went online due to COVID-19.

“One thing we noticed right away is a lot of our kids didn't have access to high-speed internet," Johnston told MTN News. "They didn't have access to stable Internet, and some kids didn't have access to any internet. So when we're sending lessons out there through our teachers, virtually, we found out right away a lot of our kids weren't kidding. So that was really a major challenge for us.”

But sustainable internet connectivity is coming to all areas of tribal land in about 24 months, CSKT Infrastructure Administrator Chuck Reese said.

“When you start talking about a network this size, that is the most critical factor," Reese explained. "You know, you can buy all these things, but if you can’t maintain it, then what’s the point in having it?”

A sustainable connection is key to providing high-speed internet, and $41 million is enough to provide exactly that.

Reese walked MTN News through a slew of previous problems that CSKT had in accessing broadband — including the lack of sustainability and assistance. He says this funding bridges that gap.

“So now we have the entire network," said Reese. "So we can actually serve ourselves on carrier-neutral facilities. What I mean by that is we aren’t profit driven. We have a network that is appetizing to anyone that is in the telecommunications or broadband industry.”

Sustainability is good news for homes, businesses and organizations on the Flathead Indian Reservation.

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