Summers in Montana evoke fond memories of fishing with grandparents and watching deer stroll through the yard. The tranquil beauty of Libby, Montana, provided the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. However, in today's digital age, the internet has become an essential part of our lives, even in remote areas like Libby. This guide aims to help you understand Montana internet providers, ranging from bustling city centres to the most rural corners of the state.
Montana's reputation for fast, reliable, and affordable internet has not been stellar. In fact, according to Ookla's Speedtest data, Montana ranks 49th among the states, with only Wyoming and Alaska falling behind. However, the situation varies depending on your location. City dwellers typically have access to decent broadband speeds, while rural areas face more limited choices.
For those living in rural areas, finding reliable Montana internet can be challenging. Satellite internet from providers like Starlink and Viasat is often the fallback option, although it can be expensive and offer less-than-desirable speeds. CenturyLink DSL is a common choice for wired internet in rural areas due to its wider coverage. However, speeds can vary significantly by location.
In addition to these options, local ISPs in Montana provide fixed wireless solutions, sometimes combined with smaller fiber networks. Fixed wireless speeds depend on your location and require a clear line of sight to a tower. The Missoula Valley Internet Co-op is unique in that it charges based on usage. Montana acknowledges the need for improved rural broadband access and is investing in expanding services to remote communities, ranches, and farms.
While the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) indicates that all Montana households can access Montana broadband internet, the definition of broadband includes satellite, which might not be suitable for all rural areas. Approximately 5% of Montanans live in underserved areas, and 13% in unserved areas.
Fiber internet is available to less than 20% of Montana households, with gigabit-speed fiber even scarcer. Larger cities are more likely to have fiber, but coverage can be sporadic. Libby, for instance, a town with fewer than 3,000 residents, is covered by Ziply Fiber. Fiber availability can significantly impact your choice of location in Montana.
Montana's low ranking in Ookla's state speed test results is largely attributed to the lack of fiber offerings and ISP competition. Gigabit-speed coverage is limited to just 16% of Montana homes. The median download speeds in some of Montana's largest cities include 211Mbps in Billings, 189Mbps in Missoula, and 209Mbps in Great Falls.
Spectrum is recognized as Montana's fastest provider, with a median download speed of 216Mbps, though it lacks symmetrical upload speeds. Fiber options like Quantum Fiber, Ziply Fiber, TDS Telecom, and local ISPs offer more balanced upload and download speeds.
Home internet pricing in Montana varies. Bundling with a T-Mobile phone plan can bring costs down to $30 per month, while most ISPs start at $50 and above. Promotional prices may increase after the initial period, but negotiating for a better deal is an option.
Low-income households in Montana can benefit from the Affordable Connectivity Program, which offers discounts on monthly bills. Many ISPs participate and provide special plans for eligible customers, such as Spectrum's no-cost 100Mbps plan.
Montana is taking steps to improve its internet infrastructure. TDS Telecom plans to bring fiber speeds of up to 8 gigabits to several cities, including Helena, Butte, Missoula, and Great Falls. Additional funding from the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment program and Governor Greg Gianforte's infrastructure investment will help extend reliable broadband to underserved and unserved areas.
So, while Montana internet structure presents challenges, there is hope for improvement shortly. Whether you're a city dweller seeking reliable broadband or a rural resident in need of decent internet, understanding your options and keeping an eye on upcoming developments can help you make the best choice for your internet needs in the Treasure State.