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Montana ranked worst in nation for internet data speeds

A recent state-by-state survey of internet access found Montana has the worst internet service in the country, with data speeds just over half the national average.

Internet service provider conducted a survey of home Internet speeds using data collected from 3,105 US cities and towns and more than 1.7 million laptops, desktops and connected home devices. The survey found that average download speeds in Montana averaged 54.4 megabits per second (Mbps) – dead last among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. According to, the national average is 99.3 Mbps.

A bit is a single binary data; either yes or no, on or off, up or down. Typically, it takes eight bits (one byte) of data to encode a single character of text. There are one million bits of data in a megabit.

Slow Internet speeds frequently impede employees’ ability to work remotely, reduce the functionality of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, delay or interrupt access to large and data-heavy electronic files, and interfere with services video and music streaming services like Netflix and Spotify.

Most of the states ranked in the bottom 10% for internet service include large rural areas with low population density. They include Wyoming, ranked 47th at 60.0 Mbps; Maine (48) at 56.3 Mbps; Idaho (49) 55.4 Mbps; West Virginia (50) with 55.2 Mbps; and bottoming out with Montana (51) at 54.4 Mbps.

Even remote and sparsely populated Alaska ranked higher than Montana, ranking 46th with 61.5 Mbps – 13% faster than data speeds in Big Sky Country.

However, some rural states have challenged this model. Nevada, Washington and Colorado all ranked among the 15 fastest states with data transmission speeds above 103.4 Mbps.

The five states with the fastest Internet service are all on the East Coast and include the District of Columbia (5) at 117.7 Mbps; Maryland (4) 118.2 Mbps; Delaware (3) 119.1 Mbps; and New Jersey (2) 120.4 Mbps. Rhode Island has the fastest data throughput at a blazing 129.0 Mbps – nearly two and a half times faster than Montana’s internet service.

In recent years, improving high-speed Internet access in rural America has become a bipartisan priority for many federal and state legislators. In March 2021, a group of four US senators, including Joe Manchin (D – W. Virginia), Rob Portman (R – Ohio), Michael Bennet (D – Colo.) and Angus King (I – Maine), requested that Federal oversight agencies are taking immediate action to roll out affordable, high-speed broadband nationwide.

“Ask any senior who connects with their doctor via telemedicine, any farmer hoping to reap the benefits of precision farming, any student receiving live instruction, or any ‘any family where both parents telecommute and multiple children learn remotely, and they’ll tell you that many networks are failing to come close to ‘broadband’ in 2021,” they wrote in a letter to the president by Acting FCC, Jessica Rosenworcel.

Montana Senators Steve Daines and Jon Tester have repeatedly called for improved Internet service in rural areas. During a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee on April 20, Tester demanded that any infrastructure bills include significant investments to expand affordable broadband access.

“Twenty years ago, I’m not sure broadband would have been part of an infrastructure bill – but things have changed,” Tester said. “This pandemic has underscored that whether you want to do business, whether you want to do telehealth, or whether you want to do distance learning, broadband is damn important… the bottom line is that any new broadband must be targeted at rural areas areas that have no service or are underserved, and this must be done in a way that gets results.

Video of the tester

The tester added that the effort must go beyond simply spending money, pointing out that access to affordable broadband also requires accurate coverage maps, a well-trained workforce to install the optical fiber and operators who are committed to extending access in hard-to-reach areas. .

David Murray is a natural resources and agriculture reporter for the Great Falls Tribune. To contact him with comments or story ideas; email [email protected] or call (406) 403-3257. To preserve in-depth, quality journalism in north-central Montana, subscribe to the Great Falls Tribune.