26 September 2023

Digital Technology Guru

Digital Technology Guru Reviews

Montana’s Digital Divide: The Role of the Affordable Connectivity Program

2 min read
Montana’s Digital Divide: The Role of the Affordable Connectivity Program

Montana faces significant challenges when it comes to closing the digital divide and ensuring universal access to high-speed internet. Affordability is a major hurdle for many residents, with a lack of affordable broadband plans being one of the primary reasons for not adopting high-speed internet. According to U.S. Census data, Montana ranks 44th in high-speed internet adoption, with less than 60 percent of households in certain counties having terrestrial broadband.

To address these issues, the Montana Broadband Office (MBO) has developed a Digital Opportunity Plan with the goal of providing affordable internet access to all residents, regardless of their income level. Currently, Montana ranks 49th in access to affordable broadband plans, with only 62 percent of households having access to wired plans at speeds of 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload or higher, priced at $60/month or less.

Affordability is particularly critical for covered populations, which make up 83.3 percent of Montana’s population. These populations include low-income households, individuals over 60, incarcerated individuals, veterans, individuals with disabilities, individuals with language barriers, and individuals residing in rural areas. Lack of affordability is a primary reason for their lack of high-speed internet.

The Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) aims to address these affordability issues providing discounts of up to $30 per month for eligible households. However, despite the program’s availability, only 21 percent of eligible Montanans have enrolled, well below the national average of 33 percent. Lack of awareness about the program is a significant factor contributing to low enrollment rates.

To increase ACP enrollment and address the affordability gap, the MBO proposes various strategies in its Digital Opportunity Plan. These strategies include engaging non-governmental organizations, coordinating with state agencies, enlisting community anchor institutions, and working with broadband service providers to promote the program.

However, the future of the ACP remains uncertain, as federal funding for the program may be exhausted in early 2024. Without additional funding, Montana’s affordability issues will persist, and over 50,000 enrolled households will be at risk of losing internet access. It is crucial for Congress to allocate additional funding to ensure that all Montanans have affordable and accessible high-speed internet.

In conclusion, Montana’s Digital Opportunity Plan and the Affordable Connectivity Program play key roles in closing the state’s digital divide and providing affordable internet access to all residents. However, concerted efforts are needed to raise awareness, increase enrollment, and secure funding to ensure universal broadband connectivity.

– Montana’s Draft Digital Opportunity Plan
– U.S. Census data
– BroadbandNow
– EducationSuperHighway