Opportunity Fund Addresses Rural Internet Access for Seniors

Illustration of High-Speed Wires for Improving Rural Internet Access

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The pandemic limited options for interaction over the last year. Fortunately, the internet offers new ways to connect—at least for people who have an adequate connection. Montana seniors living in rural areas struggle because they lack reliable internet access.

The federal government recognized that rural communities, home to many Montana seniors, don’t have adequate access to quality internet services. Nearly 42 percent of American seniors, or 22 million people, lack broadband access at home. The Federal Communication Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund remedies this problem.

The RDOF recently awarded billions of dollars to companies with a commitment to providing broadband across the country for communities without access, including in Montana. Broadband carriers bid for these funds at an FCC auction, and the winners guaranteed delivery of broadband and voice services to currently abandoned service areas.

Blackfoot Communications, based in western Montana, pursued and received RDOF funding, which will expand Blackfoot’s ongoing commitment to laying fiber in rural communities. With additional funding from the RDOF, Blackfoot’s current plans include the following:

The Georgetown Lake area will have gigabit-speed broadband service beginning in late 2022.

Areas of the southern Bitterroot Valley will see Blackfoot services beginning in late 2023.

The Highway 12 corridor west of Lolo and the Swan Valley will have services beginning in 2025 and 2026.

Blackfoot’s receipt of RDOF funding requires the FCC to approve their network expansion proposal.

“We are thrilled to bring fast, reliable, high-speed internet access to portions of Montana that have never had it before,” said Jason Williams, Blackfoot’s CEO. “This project will ensure that schools and communities to homes and businesses in these areas will have the fastest and most reliable internet service for decades to come.”

Because it’s buried in the ground, laying fiber is a large, slow, and expensive process that most internet companies reserve for large population centers. The RDOF provides an opportunity for rural communities to achieve equity at last.

What is fiber and why is the FCC willing to pony up to provide it?

Fiber-optic internet, or fiber for short, is a broadband internet connection that achieves fast, reliable, and secure results.

Fiber will improve collaborative online experiences for multiple users who are connected to several devices by enabling them to:

  • Work from home without lulls or waiting,
  • Seamlessly connect for remote learning,
  • Participate in smooth video chatting,
  • Watch stream shows and movies without buffering,
  • Download or upload large files with ease,
  • Connect voice-controlled smart home devices.

Because fiber is buried in the ground, it isn’t as vulnerable to Montana’s severe weather conditions, which helps minimize internet outages. Fiber is also considered safer, because it doesn’t carry electricity and can’t generate sparks.

“Building these networks is a massive undertaking, and our long Montana winters and rough terrain make plowing fiber difficult,” Williams said. “Even though some of these areas won’t see our service for four or five years, I want people to know that we are coming and that we will do everything we can to get you connected to our fiber network as soon as we can.”

You can find additional information regarding RDOF and Blackfoot’s other network initiatives at the following links:

MSN

For more information, visit the Blackfoot Communications website

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