Internet access more important than ever for rural Montana

Bad internet could have parents choosing between their child’s safety or their education.

“You know there are some families that just don’t have internet and they rely on the school for their kids to get access to technology,” said Scott Chauvet, superintendent for Geyser Public Schools.

One in 3 Montanan’s lack access to reliable broadband. And in a time where so many students are learning from home, that access has become more crucial than ever.

“It’s really important that we’re able to teach kids while they’re at home, that’s why we need good broadband,” said Senator Jon Tester.

Senator Tester isn’t the only one fighting for these communities.

“This rural digital divide that we see across Montana, these underserved communities must be better served,” said Senator Steve Daines.

“One of the problems we face is we don’t have accurate maps on where we have good broadband and where we need to expand,” said Congressman Greg Gianforte.

Chauvet is no stranger to this debacle. He’s been around the state as an educator and says it’s not just a matter of having access to good internet. There’s also the cost factor.

“In the Gallatin Valley there was good Internet access but for some people they just flat couldn’t afford it and so that was the thing that you battle. You know here in the rural, yes, I think I think affording it’s a big deal. But, also just getting quality Internet service is sometimes complicated,” said Chauvet.

Throw in the global pandemic, and now we really have a problem.

Governor Steve Bullock sent us this statement saying:

“…allocated $65 million to our K-12 schools to prepare them for back to school, including allowing to use the funds to help with remote learning. Additionally, Governor Bullock distributed $8.7 million in an Emergency Education Relief Fund to education entities to upgrade critical technology infrastructure for remote learning opportunities. Prior to COVID-19, Governor Bullock partnered with EducationSuperHighway to increase access to broadband in Montana’s K-12 schools – and now 100% of K-12 students have access to high-speed broadband at school.”

That number is up 78% from 2015.

But not all of rural Montana is having internet issues. John McGee, Superintendent with Centerville schools says providers have been extremely helpful amid the pandemic.

“Three Rivers was very good about the list of parents we gave them in the spring that were having problems, going in and assisting those parents to increase their capacity so you know it’s been a good partnership that we’ve had to have sound reliable Internet for our students and our staff,” said McGee.

When it comes to remote learning, Geyser has been doing what they can to ensure their students learning.

“Our internet access has been pretty good. This school has recently upgraded their WIFI connections. So, I’ve heard that was a problem in the past, but no, I haven’t had, for example, video buffering issues or anything like that,” said Brad Fruechte, 7-12th grade science teacher at Geyser Public Schools.

Senator Tester, Daines, and Congressman Gianforte all have several bills drafted in congress to help push this fight for internet access along.