Daily Inter Lake | 1/13/2019 | Heidi Gaiser

BroadbandNow, a data-aggregation service that informs consumers about internet options through government data and verified customer reviews, recently released a report on online access in the Flathead Valley.

Though there are missing elements in the report, as a whole the data paints a realistic picture of the Flathead Valley as being a technologically underserved area.

MontanaSky, for instance, is inaccurately omitted as a business provider, but Richard Dasen of MontanaSky business development said that “by and large, it [the report] seems fairly accurate.”

Montana is rated last among states for connectivity and Kalispell is the 47th most-connected city in Montana. Whitefish is 11th most-connected and Columbia Falls 28th. Kalispell ranked in the middle of United States cities in connected status, coming in at 12,276th among 26,868 cities nationwide.

According to the BroadbandNow report, the average download speed in Kalispell is 24.19 megabits per second (Mbps), 30.23 Mbps in Whitefish and 21.17 Mbps in Columbia Falls. The state average is 25.3 Mbps and the national average is 41.6.

Fiber links offer the fastest internet speeds, and according to BroadbandNow, only 6 percent of Flathead County users have fiber access. Though fiber can be prohibitively expensive unless there is a conduit already in place, it yields immensely faster service. MontanaSky, for example, has some business customers who are working on 500 Mbps with their fiber hookups, Dasen said.

MontanaSky is working to increase its fiber options.

“We’re expanding our fiber footprint quite a bit right now,” Dasen said. “We’re in the process of running fiber through the new rail park and we also have a couple larger fiber projects pending.

“We also do high-capacity point-to-point wireless so people can get fiber speeds off a wireless networks,” Dasen said. “We have several businesses located far away from fiber. With point to point we can get dedicated bandwidth to their building, anywhere from 100 to 500 megabytes.”

Kim Morisaki, director of marketing and business development for Montana West Economic Development, said a number of obstacles keep many Flathead Valley customers from having robust internet.

“The biggest challenge is that most of our infrastructure went in back in the ’90s, and back then cutting edge was DSL and not fiber,” she said. “DSL has its limitations over distance and doesn’t meet the modern-day needs of technology for today.”

She said local technology infrastructure is not keeping up with the times as new homes crop up at a rapid pace, even though homeowners usually view fast internet as a necessity.

“Internet service is the electricity of the 21st century,” Morisaki said. “People expect that in their houses all they have to do is plug in.”

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