In Hamilton Tuesday, Montana Governor Greg Gianforte signed Senate Bill 297, the Connect Montana Act. It’s a state grant program that he said will help Montana provide high speed internet service throughout the state, especially in rural areas.

The governor said, “For too long, Montana has lagged behind in broadband coverage. Currently about one in three Montanans don’t have access to broadband - three times the national average. The digital divide is even greater in our rural communities, where three out of five don’t have access to high speed internet.”

Joining the governor were Ravalli County Senators Jason Ellsworth and Sharon Greef. Ellsworth was instrumental in getting the bill through the legislature, so the governor chose Ellsworth's county for the signing. Gianforte signed the bill before a small group of Bitterroot Valley businesspeople and community leaders at the Ravalli County Economic Development Authority offices.

Gianforte provided more details to KLYQ news about the bill. “Broadband is important for our economy so people can work from here. It’s important for telemedicine so we can have specialists care in our rural communities, and with this pandemic it’s also the delivery of content for many of our students. That’s why this fund is so important. It’s going to provide $275 million to help close the digital divide. This has been a particular void for broadband here in the Bitterroot. This bill can help fix that.”

He said the solutions might be different in parts of the state.

“It’s not technology specific. We’re relying on the local communities and the local providers to determine what technology should be used. So it’s going to be a mix. Even the satellite-based programs need fiber in the ground. So fiber’s going to be part of it. We’re going to use this fund and match it with private dollars to close the digital divide across all of Montana. This is really about building internet infrastructure for the next 30 or 40 years.”

Gianforte said the bill signing in Hamilton is the start of a 56-county tour he’s making. His next stop - all the way across Montana in Miles City.

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