Guest Editorial By Casey Almas
Fifteen years ago when I was just learning the concept of numbers, the adult world was fascinated with a concept called the “Information Superhighway.” But by the time I was in third grade hardly anybody was talking about the Information Superhighway. It didn’t happen overnight, so most of the public dismissed it as a fad and a fantasy.
Now fast forward to the present day. I’m a college student in Helena majoring in computer science. High-speed broadband has turned the Information Superhighway fantasy into a practical reality. People refer to it as broadband Internet, but the Information Superhighway has been built and it’s expanding all the time.
Trouble is this marvelous highway is by-passing Montana.
The Treasure State is bringing up the rear when it comes to broadband Internet access and broadband speeds. According to an op-ed in the Great Falls Tribune last month by State Rep. Wayne Stahl, a recent study shows that 29 percent of Montanans lack access to any broadband at all. This lack of broadband connectivity is three times higher than the national average.
Why is Montana a broadband Backwater? Blame it on geography and topography. We’ve got a population of a little under a million people spread out over 147,000 square miles of mountains and high plains. That comes out to roughly 6.5 acres of land per resident. That lack of population density makes most areas of the state a daunting financial proposition for any company thinking about investing in fixed or wired broadband. But Big Sky Country is a natural candidate for advanced mobile broadband service that delivers high-speed Internet access through the air without miles of fiber-optic cables.
One example of how Montana could achieve universal broadband access is through the proposed merger of AT&T and T-Mobile. AT&T has said it will be able to provide 97 percent of the U.S. population, including all of Montana with 4G LTE, the most advanced generation of mobile broadband.
Statewide 4G LTE in Montana would mean that every isolated ranch house, reservation health clinic and rural school could tap into the limitless applications made possible by super-fast Internet connections (10 Benefits of Broadband for Rural Communities). That is why in Montana, and the country as a whole, we need to make universal broadband access the highest priority.