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Montana Opticom receives $64 million to improve broadband in rural Gallatin County

A local telecommunications company, Montana Opticom, has received $64 million in federal stimulus money to expand broadband Internet service in rural parts of western Gallatin County.

The money is part of $1.31 billion in broadband funding announced Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The money, drawn from federal stimulus funding, will support 126 rural projects in 38 states.

Opticom’s award — half grant, half loan — will allow the company to bury fiber-optic cable throughout an area that includes Manhattan, Belgrade, Four Corners, Gallatin Gateway and many points in between.

The cable will be laid over the next three years and will make high-speed Internet available to more than 11,000 households, businesses and public buildings, said Dean Genge, a spokesman for Opticom, which is based in Gallatin Gateway.

“What that allows is affordable, high-speed digital content to every home, place of business and educational institution that wants it in the proposed service area,” Genge said.

The fiber-optic cable will carry telephone, television and Internet, Genge said. Internet speeds over the cable will range from 20 megabits per second to 100 megabits per second. People living in that area currently have access to slower cable and dial-up Internet service, he said.

“This will be vastly more bandwidth than is offered to that service area currently,” he said. “All of the people in the affected service area will have world-class bandwidth speeds.”

Genge said it’s too early to know exactly how much the fiber-optic service will cost, though he said the rates would be “competitive.”

The funding will also create about 60 jobs with Opticom, 10 of them full-time, Genge said. The company currently has 22 full- and part-time employees.

The USDA oversees the Broadband Infrastructure Program, which aims bring state of the art, Internet-based public services to rural areas that have never had access to them before, said USDA spokesman Bart Kendrick.

“The benefit is not just to rural America, but to all America,” Kendrick said. “The whole idea is to get more and more people connected to we can stimulate the economy and be more competitive across the board.”

This story appeared in the Aug. 5, 2010, edition of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. Because you read my blog, you got to read it a few hours early.