Recently the Mid-Rivers Board of Trustees approved the purchase of $2.66 Million in fiber cable to go into the ground in 2023. This year’s fiber projects will span 795 miles of remote, rural Montana outside of Grass Range and Ekalaka, along with final clean-up and subscriber cutovers in 2022 project areas.
Mid-Rivers plans to invest more than $185 Million in network expansion and improvements – mostly rural fiber construction to unserved members – over the next 10 years. During the last two and a half years, we invested about $1.6 Million inside our largest towns (Miles City, Sidney, Glendive, & Lewistown), improving Internet distribution systems to increase upload speeds and ensure your connections continue to meet bandwidth and capacity demands during peak streaming hours. The Cooperative also recently invested in major network improvements to increase speeds and capacity for business data services that connect this region’s wireless providers with the rest of the world.
Mid-Rivers has first-hand experience providing fixed wireless, mobile, satellite and other “flavors” of Internet technology. They have limited useful life, limited reach, limited capabilities, and limited reliability. Upload speeds, latency, and always-on reliability matter, and will most certainly matter even more in the future. Federal broadband support programs already exclude fixed wireless (“FWA”) and non-terrestrial (satellite) services from their definition of “reliable broadband service.” One national FWA provider was recently advised to stop using the terms “fast” and “reliable” in their ads.
Today, nearly 90% of our Internet subscribers are provisioned for Gigabit-capable speeds at an average price of $79/month. Our subscribers’ average actual download speed is 724 Mbps, more than three times the U.S national average. Wireless and satellite technologies continue to advance, and thankfully – at least for the short term – are capable of providing unserved rural members with improved stop-gap options until we can get them fiber. Still, getting members a fiber connection remains our long-term goal. No one else is building a fiber network for rural Eastern and Central Montana, so filling that gap is our obligation to our membership and to the public. Everything we are doing today – from our pricing structures to exiting cable TV and everything in between – is with the long-term goal of a robust, essential broadband network to every member in mind.