Daily Inter Lake | October 24, 2019 | Bret Anne Serbin
MontanaSky is in the process of installing fiber-optic cables through downtown Columbia Falls to provide faster and more reliable internet service to local businesses.
The locally based internet service provider received a loan from Montana West Economic Development to complete the $120,000 project.
“Previously, we only had wireless in that area,” reported MontanaSky Marketing Director Amber Pacheco-Holm. “It was definitely an underserved area from our perspective.”
Fiber-optic cables provide faster, more reliable internet service and support larger bandwidths than the existing wireless service. Pacheco-Holm said the new service will have the capability of operating at 10 gigabytes per second.
“There are endless possibilities” with fiber-optic internet, she said. “We’re all evolving toward fiber optic,” she said of the internet provider landscape, noting other providers such as CenturyLink already operate fiber-optic cables in Columbia Falls.
Pacheco-Holm explained MontanaSky’s service is unique because it is the only provider in the area to utilize three redundant paths to provide service. This way, if there is a disruption in one of the paths, the company can reroute to the others to keep customers connected. She said this system allowed MontanaSky to avoid losing service during the high winds and storms in September that knocked out internet and cell service for many people throughout the valley.
She clarified the new service is primarily geared toward business customers, rather than residential internet users. For now, at least, she said, “it’s not really a residential solution.”
“Columbia Falls is growing,” Pacheco-Holms explained. “There are a lot of new businesses coming in…They have growing bandwidth needs, especially in rural Montana.”
“We serve the majority of the Flathead already. We’ve been looking for the opportunity to serve that community,” she said. MontanaSky already operates fiber-optic service in Kalispell, Whitefish, Bigfork and Libby.
Pacheco-Holm said MontanaSky has started the initial steps to install the cables on both sides of Nucleus Avenue and parts of U.S. 2, Fourth Avenue West and Sixth Street. Once the installation is complete, she estimated “it will be up and running within 60 days.”
But, she cautioned, “there’s a lot involved” in the installation process, so she couldn’t specify how far out MontanaSky currently is from activating the fiber-optic service. Nonetheless, Pacheco-Holm said the construction to install the cables “won’t be disrupting the day-to-day” activities of Columbia Falls residents and businesses.
She also said the current project is only the first phase of MontanaSky’s development in Columbia Falls. “We’re going to continue” expanding service options there, she promised. “Getting there was the first step.”
Once installation is complete, she advised Columbia Falls businesses to call MontanaSky in order to sign up for the new fiber-optic service.