Report: 84 percent of Montanans have high-speed Internet access

About 84 percent of Montanans say they have access to high-speed Internet where they live, according to a report from the University of Montana and the Montana Commissioner of Higher Education.

A further 7.3 percent of those surveyed said they did not know if high-speed Internet was available where they live, meaning that access to broadband could be even greater than 84 percent.

The report (full text in PDF form) is based on a survey of 1,226 households. It’s focus was on distance learning opportunities, but the data also give us a good glimpse at the state of broadband in Montana.

Some details:

  • About 520,000 people in Montana between the ages of 18 and 64 have access.
  • Lower-income and less-educated households were less likely to have access.
  • The eastern half of Montana has less access to broadband.
  • The number of Indian households with broadband access is more than 10 percent smaller than the number of white households with broadband.
  • 5.9 percent of adult Montanans under age 65 said they do not use the Internet

(A note about those population figures: Those were provided by the authors of the report who based their figures on census data and did their math based on those figures.

Another thing to note is that all of these responses are based on what the people surveyed knew. We can hope they were honest and knowledgable about their Internet situations, but there’s no way to know for certain how accurate these figures are.)

“This information provides quantitative proof that while access is widely available, a digital divide still appears for Montana’s lower-income, Native American and rural populations,” Patrick Barkey, director of UM’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, said in a written statement.

According to the report:

Since internet connectivity is a crucial link in distance learning, we asked the question a number of different ways. The most basic question – home internet connectivity – is reported in Table 5.4. Almost 84 percent of Montana adults aged less than 65 said they had working internet at home. Home connectivity is positively related to income and education, and is more prevalent for whites than American Indians. However, home access for even white, high earning respondents with a college degree is less than universal. Nearly one out of every ten college educated Montanans does not have internet access from home.

About distance learning: It’s interesting to note that the number of people interested in distance learning seems to be higher in areas where there’s more access to broadband Internet.


Of the people who said they had an interest in distance learning opportunities, 95.2 percent said they used the Internet, and 89.8 percent of them had access to the Internet at home.

Those who were surveyed in eastern Montana and north-central Montana showed the least interest in distance learning and also had less access to broadband.



Improving the Chronicle’s online election coverage

In case you missed it, Tuesday was primary election day in Montana — and in some other states, I guess. What this meant was that most of the newsroom worked a split shift so that we could stay late waiting for election returns.

Vote Button

Since the polls closed at 8 p.m., this meant a late night, even if things went swimmingly at the Gallatin County Elections Office. (Thanks to the complicated nature of elections, that almost never happens.)

The point of writing about the election on this blog is that this was the Chronicle’s first election using our new website, and it was the first election that we covered on other media too, such as Twitter and Facebook.

In fact, Tuesday was the first election night that the Chronicle has ever had results posted throughout the night so that readers could track the election as the night wore on.

Given that this was our first try and that we’ve got a general election coming up in November, I’m interested to know what we can do better with our online coverage this fall.

The suggestions I’ve received already:

  • Make it clearer that we’ve got election results. The banner at the top of the page, which actually read “click here for results” wasn’t visually prominent enough. (People tend to ignore banners of any kind thanks to our ad-avoidance reflex.)
  • Make it clearer that election results have been updated. Perhaps use a timestamp to make this clear throughout the night.
  • Before the election, gather a list of issues and have all the candidates comment on the issues. Then arrange those responses into a grid so that we can easily compare the candidates’ positions.

I am intensely interested in any suggestions you can offer me in the comments on this post. I want to make sure that the Chronicle has the best local election coverage when November rolls around. Thanks for the feedback!

Earl Vining: Filling in holes

It was the winter of 1950. Earl Vining had only been in Korea for a few months, and already he’d been wounded twice.

“When they sent me back again, I knew I was going to get killed,” Vining, now 78, said.

Then, one day, a lieutenant popped his head into the hospital tent and asked the question that Vining credits with saving his life:

“Does anybody know how to run a bulldozer?”

Continue reading “Earl Vining: Filling in holes”

Memories of the Seahorse

Just a few months before the end of World War II, the submarine USS Seahorse was sent to the Sea of Japan to map underwater minefields in preparation for a possible Allied invasion.

Richard Clower
Richard Clower (Photo by Sean Sperry/Chronicle)

On board was Radioman 2nd Class Richard Clower. A native of North Carolina who had qualified for the Olympics as a sprinter before the war, Clower was in his third year aboard the Seahorse.

During five wartime patrols on the sub, Clower and the crew had come under attack many times. Depth charges and airplane attacks had become part of the extraordinary “normal” that comes with war.

But Clower, who now lives in a retirement community in Bozeman, said that of all the attacks, the one in the shallow waters off Japan was the scariest.

“That was the only time I could honestly say that I didn’t think we’d make it out of there,” he said.

He did make it, of course, and so did the Seahorse, which limped back to port after the attack.

Now in his 80s and retired after a career as a school administrator, Clower looks back on his time in the Navy with mixed feelings.

He enlisted in the Navy in August 1942 after studying at the University of Wisconsin’s radio school, and once he was in, Clower volunteered for the submarine service.

“Many of us who enlisted, I guess they’d say it was the thing to do,” he said. “You want to do something unusual, something different that helps other people.”

But the submarine service offered more than just adventure. During his time on the Seahorse, the sub damaged 15 enemy ships and sank 24, including a Japanese troop ship — fully loaded.

“There must have been 4,000 guys in the water, and there was no way they were going to survive,” Clower said. “They were Japanese soldiers, but we got to thinking later on that they were people, too.”

Being responsible for the deaths of thousands of people isn’t easy to reconcile, he said, and those feelings only grew stronger as the years slipped by.

Remembering that it was part of a larger effort, part of the ultimate goal of winning the war, doesn’t help much.

“You don’t think about goals; you only think about your own survival and killing the enemy,” he said. “And you don’t think about Judgement Day either. If you did, you’d go crazy.”

Thankfully, Clower said, there are plenty of other memories to go along with the combat, like the time spent in Hawaii or Australia between cruises and the friendships made with crewmates.

“The least amount of memory I have was sinking ships,” he said. “You have to remember the other things that happened.”

He still keeps in touch with his crewmates and has attended a convention with them for years, but, odds are, that won’t last much longer.

“Probably this year or the next will be the last,” he said. “There just aren’t enough left.”

Despite the sacrifices — Clower never did make it to the Olympics, though he now runs in the Senior Olympics — he remembers that it was his choice to go to war, and he can’t imagine his life going any other way.

“Every war has a unique experience,” he said. “Those people who aren’t in it will never experience it. And you never want other people to experience it, but you’re glad you did.”

Michael Becker can be reached at [email protected]

A deeper reading of Tester’s Public Online Information Act of 2010

Sen. Jon Tester’s Public Online Information Act of 2010 establishes a 19-member advisory committee with the power to establish “nonbinding” government guidelines for making public information available on the Internet.

The bill also seeks to give the E-Government Administrator and independent regulatory agencies the power to issue binding rules about making government information held by executive agencies available on the Internet.


“Government information is too often hard to find, difficult to understand, expensive to obtain in useful formats and available in only a few locations.”


One major point in the bill is that records should be made available online permanently, freely and in a usable format.

Despite government efforts to make information publicly available over the years, the bill says that “government information is too often hard to find, difficult to understand, expensive to obtain in useful formats and available in only a few locations.”

The bill goes on:

In addition to the traditional means of disseminating public information, the Federal Government should make all of its public information available on the Internet. It should do so in ways that take advantage of modern technology, that anticipate the needs of the public, and that provide access to the greatest number of people. The Government should strive to make its information available on the Internet in real-time and in machine processable formats.

The bill says that the government “shall make public records available on the Internet at no charge (including a charge for recovery of costs) to the public.” However, the “free” clause “shall not apply in the case of a charge imposed by Federal law before the date of the enactment of this Act.”

From this wording, it makes it sound like if a fee was assessed for access before the law is passed, then the person who was charged the fee will still have to pay.

However, I think the wording also leaves it open for government agencies to charge for access to documents that remain in a non-digital format (e.g. paper, maps or microfilm).

In addition to being permanently available online, government agencies will have to publish a “comprehensive, searchable, machine processable list of all records” that that they make available online. The list must include, at minimum, a brief description of the records, information on where the records can be found and whether they are available for free or for a cost.

This is not a strict call for a federal database of records, as some of the earlier news articles said. Really, it’s just a call for a list to be published.

Yes, the most efficient way for such a list to be published would probably be in the form of a database, but that doesn’t preclude an executive agency from publishing a single Web page that holds an actual list of records a mile long.

After Section 7, the text of the bill gets into legal matters about requests for information and possible appeals and lawsuits surrounding denied requests for access to government information. I’m not going to go through the details. Feel free to read them yourself. (PDF).

The poetry of Twitter, or the significance of what you had for breakfast

Twitter: Millions use it to broadcast tiny bits of thought and notes about their days to other Twitter users around the world.

Some see these often inane and uninteresting dispatches as proof of Twitter’s worthlessness, but not Robert Bennet and Ben Leubner.

The two Montana State University English professors see strong ties between Twitter and some of the best poetry of the past century.

About 35 people attended the professors’ mid-April talk on the “Poetics of Twittering,” held in conjunction with National Poetry Month.

“We thought it was a way for people to see a connection between poetry and what they’re doing in their daily lives,” Bennett said.

Critics of Twitter, like political analyst William Bradley, say they don’t want tweets about a person’s breakfast interrupting their day.

Bradley wrote, “If someone … demands to tell me about their desire for a baked potato and a viewing of ‘The Singing Nun,’ I’m not too happy.”

But Leubner argues that a tweet about this morning’s breakfast can be about more than simply waffles and orange juice.

“We see something deeper in the idea of what you had for breakfast,” he said.

As an example, Bennett notes poet Frank O’Hara, who often wrote in a style prescient of Twitter, as in his 1964 book “Lunch Poems.”

In “A Step Away from Them,” O’Hara describes the sights seen on a lunch-hour walk: people eating, cabs driving, a bargain wristwatch.

“A glass of papaya juice and back to work. My heart is in my pocket, it is Poems by Pierre Reverdy,” O’Hara wrote.

“There’s this idea that art has to be deep and abstract and about Greek mythology,” Bennett said. “Yeah, that’s one kind of art, but not the only kind.”

Twitter is an appropriate medium for our fast-paced modern times, Leubner says, Plus, it can be a gateway to writing and reading poetry.

“You should take the material of your life and turn it into something interesting,” he said.

“There’s a real challenge to tweeting. You have to say something important and say it quickly,” Bennett said.

“Instead of telling the kids to quit tweeting and go to school, we should teach them to be more thoughtful in their tweeting,” he said.

Further reading: The professors suggest O’Hara, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and the beat poets as good starting points for “daily life” poetry.

Michael Becker always wants story ideas. Reach him at 582-2657, [email protected] or on Twitter at @superjaberwocky.