December 6, 2016 Voices Of Montana

Big Sky, Small World Thanks to Montana Telecom Companies

Geoff Feiss & The Montana Telecommunications Association

On Thursday, December 1, Geoff Feiss, the General Manager of the Montana Telecommunications Association joined Voices of Montana. Geoff and the MTA have just released their first, one of its kind report on the state of rural broadband in Montana. The report ” Conquering Montana’s Divide” is an 18-page booklet that identifies the 9-members of the MTA and how they work to bring their rural customers into the modern world of communications.

fiber opticsThe MTA brings broadband internet, digital telephone, video, wireless, Skype, and other telecommunications to rural Montana’s schools, businesses, residents, and the ever important emergency and rural healthcare services to our communities. This nine member association bring state of the art communications to some of the most sparsely populated areas in the United States, though still offering services better than many eastern states have.

In Montana, these rural telecoms cover 70 per-cent of our states geography with up to date communications all while serving as little as 3 customers per mile and in some cases in eastern Montana as few as 1 customer per mile. This type of service to rural customers is not cheap spending an average of $30,000 per mile installing fiber backbone in some areas and that adds up quickly. Geoff Feiss told us that $248.6 million has been invested in broadband networks by Montana rural telecom’s since 2011.

One of my first questions to Mr. Feiss was what exactly is fiber optics? He explained that it refers to the electronics and transmission medium used to send information literally at the speed of light along fine strands of glass or plastic. He added that a single fiber, approximately the diameter of a human hair, offers virtually unlimited band width capabilities and is much less susceptible than other transmission methods to electromagnetic interference.

Geoff explained that by the end of next year, 100% of rural Montana schools served by MTA members will be connected to fiber, plus there will be 74,297 customer access lines and 13,460 business customers all served by the MTA.

With this same technology, farmers and ranchers are able to sell their products a long way from home. For instance, the bull that sold for $21,000 on an on-line bull auction held by Malek Angus ranch near Highwood. It was made possible by the fiber to home project undertaken by 3-rivers communications. Columbia grain in Chinook uses broadband to connect all its terminals and control operations to a central dispatch and Ninepipes lodge south of Ronan entices visitors with an on-line, live camera focused on the areas abundant wildlife to entice visitors to come see for themselves.

One area that is so very important to the MTA members and its customers is healthcare and how rural hospitals no longer have to worry about a shortage of specialists in rural areas. For instance, in eastern Montana they established the eastern Montana telemedicine network delivering two-way video-conferencing and providing special health care professionals to their customers including oncology, cardiology and gastroenterology, all without having to travel across the state.

geoff feissOne thing is for sure, the nine longstanding, locally owned, telecommunications providers that the MTA represents bring solutions every day to challenges and opportunities in their Montana communities and beyond. These are fine companies that hire and spend locally all while investing millions of dollars each year to provide the best in communications to its customers.

Voices of Montana would like to thank General Manager of the MTA, Geoff Feiss and the Montana Telecommunications Association and their 9-members for providing great service to our state. Members include Nemont, Lincoln Telephone Company, InterBel Telephone cooperative, Blackfoot, 3-rivers communications, Northern Telephone Cooperative, Range, Southern Montana Telephone and Triangle Communications.

According to Mr Feiss, “Our members serve areas of the state where cows outnumber houses and businesses yet, as this report shows, were connecting rural Montanans to the kinds of advanced communications services and plentiful bandwidth that they’ll need to thrive in the 21st century.”