Fiber optic cable (Photo by Pixabay, Creative Commons)
A House panel on Wednesday signed off on legislation Wednesday to facilitate broadband development in rural Montana by taking advantage of existing infrastructure projects, one of several proposals from lawmakers in both parties and the governor to bolster internet access in the state.
House Bill 494, dubbed the “dig once” bill, directs the Montana Department of Transportation to notify broadband companies when the state is making plans for highway construction or repairs and encourage them to install fiber while roads are already dug up and utility lines are accessible.
This would help to defray one of the principle costs of creating broadband connectivity, said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Derek Harvey, digging.
“Up to 90 percent of the costs of laying fiber are strictly wrapped around the excavation of the ditch,” said Harvey, D-Butte. “My bill would require MDT to simply reach out to telecoms companies when they are engaging in state road construction projects and give the companies an opportunity to lay fiber or conduit while the ditch is already dug.”
Montana is one of the least connected states in the country, especially in rural and tribal communities. The disparity in rural and urban connectivity has become especially apparent during the pandemic, when many students and workers have taken their daily life online.
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