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Inside MTPR

Microsoft To Bring Broadband Internet To Rural Montana And Washington

Network cables.
Network cables.

Microsoft announced a new agreement this week to deliver broadband internet service to over 73,000 people in rural Montana and Washington who currently have slow, or no internet whatsoever.

The FCC says roughly 40 percent of rural Montanans lack access to a broadband internet connection.

Andrew Metcalfe considers high-speed internet a necessity of life; the backbone of modern business, healthcare and education. 

Metcalfe, the President and C.E.O of the Washington state-based Native Network adds too many American rural and tribal communities lack even basic broadband access.

“A lot of reservations I’ve visited, you have students gathered around a public building that has internet and they graciously let [the Wi-Fi] spill out into the parking lot. You’ll see the kids parked in their cars two or three deep with folks inside working on their schoolwork because schoolwork now consists of take-home work that needs to be done after hours. And if you don’t have an internet connection - broadband connection, you just can’t do it.”

Native Network is teaming up with Microsoft to build out broadband internet access to several tribes including Montana’s Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes on the Flathead Reservation.

The agreement is part of what Microsoft calls its Airband Initiative to extend broadband access to 2-million rural Americans by 2022. To do this, a variety of technical methods would be used, including TV white spaces. Those so-called white spaces are actually unused TV channels.

Metcalfe says the government has already spent millions to lay fiber optic cables near the Flathead Reservation.

“What we’re looking to do is extend off of that fiber construction to add towers and wireless services to provide the coverage around that baseboard network.”

Metcalfe says it could take several years and millions of dollars in funding from a variety of sources to complete the project. If successful, he predicts the cost to consumers would be comparable to existing regional internet services.

Metcalfe says the partnership is also studying ways to provide broadband to Montana’s six other reservations.

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