Thursday, August 25, 2011


Posted on Thu, Aug 25, 2011 at 4:00 AM

It’s incredible to sit back and consider the changes we’ve experienced as a result of commercial internet access. Things we once never dreamed possible have now become parts of our daily routine—talking on our cell phones, accessing videos on our mobile devices, participating in live video chats with people overseas—the list goes on and on. But in many ways, we’re still in the early stages of technological innovation, with many more incredible changes yet to be realized.

That’s why it’s so important that Montana keep pace with the rest of the nation in broadband access. High-speed internet access is no longer a luxury for the urban elite; it’s a necessity that all Americans deserve.

Sadly, Montana is already behind the curve. A recent study has Montana ranked near last in internet download speeds. Twenty-nine percent of Montanans lack broadband access—three times higher than the national average. And 77 percent of our Montana households have internet speeds that are below “minimum national standards.”

Access to high-speed broadband is of increasing importance for several reasons: Small businesses in Montana need high-speed access to compete in global markets without having to relocate to larger population centers. It provides new tools to agriculture producers to grow their businesses. It allows consumers to tap into e-commerce savings and to connect with local businesses. It enhances educational opportunities for young and old alike, such as distance learning. It creates new economic opportunities such as jobs, and increased productivity. It increases access to healthcare for patients and providers by allowing for tele-health and access to e-health records. And, increasingly, it’s a primary way for families and friends to stay in touch.

Montana truly is part of a global economy—our manufactures, services, and ag products are consumed all over the world. New technology integrated by Montana innovators has a tremendous added value to their businesses. To continue to compete, we must stay abreast with our worldwide trading partners.

Areas that are left without access to the latest broadband technology will fall behind if they’re not provided with the same opportunities as the rest of the country. We need new investment in Montana to ensure that the latest broadband technologies, like fiber optics and the emerging 4G LTE wireless networks, are rolled out in our state at the same rate as elsewhere.

High-speed internet broadband has already changed our lives in profound ways, but that innovation is far from over. With many of those future innovations requiring access to higher-capacity bandwidth, we need to start now to make sure Montana isn’t left behind.

Rep. Wayne Stahl


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