Montana governor highlights broadband gains in schools


Montana schools have experienced significant broadband innovations and improvements in recent years, allowing many K-12 students the opportunity to earn a “21st century education,” Gov. Steve Bullock said during a visit to an area high school this week.

The high school is part of Red Lodge Public Schools, which recently upgraded its internet services to a 300 Mbps connection and 1 Gbps wide area network (WAN) connection.

Red Lodge is among the more than 40 Montana school districts that have enhanced broadband or saved money on internet services with the help of the nonprofit EducationSuperHighway.

Since 2015, 49 Montana districts with a collective 33,000 students have improved their bandwidth to meet the Federal Communications Commission’s recommendations of 100 Kbps, bringing the statewide total to 94 percent (up from 77 percent in 2015).

Eighty-four percent of those schools are fiber-connected, compared to 65 percent in 2015.

“If we want our kids to compete in the 21st century economy, we need to give them a 21st century education,” Bullock, a Democrat, said during an event at Red Lodge High School on Wednesday. “Even our most rural schools are already using increased connectivity to improve educational opportunities and we will continue to work until all schools have the connectivity they need to be successful classrooms into the 21st century and beyond.”

The Montana legislature approved a bill earlier this summer to establish a state funding match system with the FCC’s E-rate program. The goal is to make it easier for schools to afford broadband upgrades and, by extension, utilize technology to improve learning outcomes. Under House Bill 390, the state will invest $2 million in K-12 broadband infrastructure over the next two years, which could potentially unlock $20 million when paired with E-rate and local funding.