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News briefs: Internet access; prescribed burns; school threats

$16 million from Blackfoot Communications to expand high-speed internet access in western Montana
Aaron Bolton | Montana Public Radio

An internet service provider says it will use tens of millions of dollars in federal funding to expand high-speed internet access in western Montana.

Blackfoot Communications was awarded $60 million in federal funding and is using $16 million of its own money to expand broadband access in Granite, Missoula, Ravalli and Sanders counties. Projects will replace low-speed copper lines around Plains, Swan Lake, the Bitterroot Valley and west of Anaconda as well as other communities in western Montana.

Blackfoot began its multi-year expansion project in 2021, and work across its service area is expected to continue into 2025.

The projects are funded by pandemic era aid approved by Congress. In December, the state announced $309 million of that funding would pay for internet expansion projects across the state.

According to the Federal Communications Commission, about a third of Montanans currently don’t have access to high-speed internet.

Prescribed burning season will begin and run through the spring
Austin Amestoy | Montana Public Radio

Officials with Montana’s national forests say prescribed burning is set to begin and run through the spring season. The controlled burns are done only under favorable weather conditions and will include underburning, which clears fuels beneath the canopies of trees. Officials say the practice improves habitat and encourages fire-adapted vegetation to regrow.

The Flathead, Lolo and Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forests all plan to begin prescribed burns as conditions allow. Officials say smoke may be visible from nearby communities. You can check the forests’ Facebook pages for more information.

Missoula Police Department respond to alleged threats at Hellgate High School
Edward F. O'Brien | Montana Public Radio

The Missoula Police Department says three female juveniles were taken into custody Wednesday regarding alleged threats made against Hellgate High School. No violence occurred and no one was injured. The threats were first reported at about 10:30 Wednesday morning.

Hellgate was locked down and law enforcement surrounded the school. Missoula County Public School officials implemented a ‘soft perimeter lock-in’ at most other district schools. That means instruction continued as normal, but students were not allowed outside for lunch, recess, or any other activities. The neighboring Lolo School District also went into perimeter lockdown as a precautionary measure.

MCPS evacuated Hellgate as police provided security for students and staff. Police say the investigation into the incident continues and police say there is no threat to the community.

Missoula school officials say classes at Hellgate High will be held as usual tomorrow. Students wanting additional emotional support are encouraged to reach out to teachers or staff to connect with available services.

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