Without a doubt, improving high-speed internet access was necessary before the pandemic, but since COVID struck, Montana’s “digital divide” has only become more apparent.
On May 11, Governor Greg Gianforte enacted The ConnectMT Act – To Establish Broadband Deployment (Senate Bill 297). The bill was sponsored by Senator Jason Ellsworth of Hamilton and was passed overwhelmingly by the Montana Legislature.
This new law mobilizes $ 275 million in federal funds available under the American Rescue Plan Act to expand broadband infrastructure and access throughout Montana. It will also mobilize additional matching funds at the county and locality levels of up to $ 175 million.
AARP Montana is encouraged that the new law will focus on borderline, unserved and underserved areas of the state, in addition to building an even stronger infrastructure where broadband already exists.
Telehealth services depend on affordable high-speed Internet access. Since the pandemic, telehealth has grown exponentially and will continue to be another viable means of providing health care to the elderly and rural people of Montana.
For older Montanais, Internet access helps fight loneliness by making it easier to stay connected with friends and family. Social isolation is a serious public health problem that puts older people at a higher risk of failing health and premature death.
The AARP Montana would like to thank the sponsor of the bill and all of the state legislators who worked to pass this historic bipartisan legislation. Additionally, we appreciate Gianforte’s vision to develop Montana’s broadband infrastructure.
Al Ward, Volunteer State President