Funding will come from USDA’s ReConnect program
In his ongoing efforts to bridge the digital divide in rural Montana communities, U.S. Senator Jon Tester announced he has secured $57 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Utilities Service ReConnect for the expansion of broadband in rural areas and Indian country. The grants, which were funded from fiscal year 2021 appropriations, will go to Blackfoot Telephone Cooperative in Ravalli County, Nemont in Roosevelt and Valley Counties and the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, and the Reservation Telephone Cooperative in Richland and Wibaux counties.
“Limited access to broadband networks is one of the biggest issues facing rural communities in Montana – and one that has only gotten worse during the COVID-19 pandemic when people have been forced to rely on technology more than ever before”, said the tester. “These resources will not only keep people in Treasure State connected, but they will also help small businesses grow and create jobs, provide rural students with access to high-quality education, and empower people to access affordable telehealth services. instead of driving hundreds of miles to the doctor. I am proud to have secured these investments that will strengthen our communities and grow our economy.
A breakdown of the projects can be found below:
- $4 million to the Blackfoot Telephone Cooperative (County of Ravalli) – will serve 89 people, five businesses and 47 farms.
- $24.5 million to Nemont (Roosevelt and Valley Counties and Fort Peck Indian Reservation) – will serve 1,068 people, 25 businesses and 282 farms.
- $18.5 million to the Telephone Reservations Cooperative (Richland and Wibaux counties and three North Dakota counties) – will serve 67 businesses, 4 public schools and 91 farms.
As a farmer in an area without cell phone service, Tester was Montana’s leading champion for expanding broadband in rural communities. In December 2018, he helped secure $600 million to launch the ReConnect program to expand high-speed internet to rural communities across the country.
Tester also aggressively pushed the FCC to improve broadband access in rural America and asked the FCC to take concrete steps to increase the accuracy of broadband maps. In 2019, Tester launched the Broadband Data Improvement Actwhich would increase funding for broadband development in rural areas by improving the accuracy of the broadband coverage map.
Last year, Tester worked across the aisle to negotiate his bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Employment Act (IIJA), which included $65 billion to deploy broadband access to communities lacking internet access and affordable online connectivity.