January 27th, 2022

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(Bozeman, MT…..January 27, 2022) Gallatin County residents, businesses, and ranches will soon have the fastest internet network in the United States. At a press conference today, leaders from Yellowstone Fiber announced the launch of a high-speed Open Access fiber network that will cover the City of Bozeman and extend deep into rural areas in Gallatin County. Yellowstone Fiber, a nonprofit formerly known as Bozeman Fiber, will bring speeds up to 100 Gigabits per second (Gbps) for businesses and 10 Gbps (residential) to all 22,000 homes, businesses, and government buildings in Bozeman. Yellowstone will also start the extensive process of building its high-speed broadband network into rural areas throughout Gallatin County, currently unserved or underserved by internet service providers (ISPs). To achieve this massive goal, Yellowstone Fiber finalized an operational partnership in September with Utah-based UTOPIA Fiber to provide engineering, construction, financing, marketing, and network operational support for the new network.

“This is a transformational moment for the City of Bozeman, Gallatin County, and the State of Montana,” said Greg Metzger, CEO, Yellowstone Fiber. “Montana now has it all. An open and free way of life, beautiful surroundings, great people, and now, the nation’s fastest fiber internet. Yellowstone Fiber is delivering the future of connectivity, right here in Gallatin County,” he added.

Although not a municipally-owned project, Gallatin County served as financial conduit for the $65 million network, which is being financed through private investors at no cost or risk to taxpayers. The three-year construction project begins in the spring with the first homes connected shortly thereafter.

“High-speed fiber internet is the 21st century infrastructure for learning, working, streaming, and everyday living. It brings economic opportunity to the treasure state while preserving Montana’s natural beauty and resources. Connecting Montana’s rural areas to high-speed broadband is a priority for the state leaders. I am pleased to see Yellowstone Fiber reaching out to underserved and unserved Montanans. This project is a great example of financing infrastructure to close the digital divide.”

Dire Need for Broadband Service

Historically, high-speed broadband has eluded many areas of Montana. The state’s wide-open spaces and lack of density has served as a draw for individuals to the Treasure State, but not for legacy ISPs who need densely populated cities to meet financial margins. As such, Montana remains one of the least-connected states in the nation. According to 2020 data released by Microsoft, nearly half-a-million Montanans lack access to minimum broadband speeds. In Gallatin County, a third of residents lack access. These numbers are in stark contrast to the FCC’s National Broadband Maps that report 99% of Gallatin County has broadband access.

“Ask anyone who lives in Gallatin County and they can tell you the FCC numbers are flawed,” said Metzger. “The FCC relies on self-reported data from ISPs and other unreliable assumptions. The Microsoft numbers are more accurate because they measure the actual download and upload speeds during Windows updates. We have a connectivity problem here in Gallatin County, and we at Yellowstone Fiber are out to solve the problem. The bottom line is that the internet is about to get much faster and more reliable here,” noted Metzger.

Montana’s First Open Access Network

Building out all of Bozeman City and Gallatin County won’t be an easy feat. Yellowstone Fiber estimates construction will take more than three years and cost upwards of $65 million to build the all-fiber optic network. Metzger, and the Board of his small and nimble nonprofit, struck a deal with Utah-based UTOPIA Fiber to help support the project’s construction, operations, and customer acquisitions. UTOPIA, which stands for the Utah Open Infrastructure Agency, was formed in 2002 by a consortium of 11 communities looking for better broadband options. Since then, the company has morphed into the nation’s largest and most-successful Open Access fiber network, with nearly a half-billion dollars of projects under its belt.

“UTOPIA Fiber is the leader in Open Access networks in the United States, so it’s a big deal that they’re involved with our Gallatin County project,” said Metzger.

In the Open Access model, Yellowstone Fiber owns and builds the fiber infrastructure but doesn’t provide the service. Rather, it leases space on its cables to multiple private-sector service providers. Customers have the freedom to choose from six local ISPs and select the services and speeds they desire. The model brings competition to the broadband market, which has been dominated by monopolies and duopolies for decades, often giving consumers little choice in services or pricing.

“In a nutshell, the Open Access model means that residents, businesses, and ranches in Gallatin County will have better service at competitive prices,” noted Metzger.

“We’re really excited to be partnering with Yellowstone Fiber,” said Roger Timmerman, UTOPIA Fiber’s Executive Director. Creating fiber access drives opportunities for communities and changes lives. The financials for the project look fantastic, meaning that we can bring fiber to even more homes, businesses, and ranches in Bozeman City and Gallatin County. We think it’s one of the most exciting fiber-broadband projects in the country,” explained Timmerman.

The first six ISPs to provide services on the Yellowstone Fiber network will be:

  • Blackfoot
  • Global Net
  • Hoplite Industries
  • Skynet
  • TCT (Tri-County Telephone Associates)
  • XMission

Pricing and plans will be announced in the spring.

About Bozeman Fiber

Bozeman fiber was created in 2015 as the lack of true high-speed broadband was identified by the Bozeman Economic Development director and the Chamber of Commerce as a missing link to the future growth of existing businesses and innovative new companies, with the accompanying jobs and wages. A group was formed including the City of Bozeman, Gallatin County, the Bozeman School District and business leaders and funded by 8 banks with a CRA- (Community Reinvestment Act) designated loan. This $4,000,000 was used to create the fiber ring connecting anchor tenants (City of Bozeman, Gallatin County and all of the Bozeman School District buildings) and also servicing the Cannery district and downtown Bozeman. Anchor operations began in the fall of 2016, and commercial operations in February 2017.

About UTOPIA Fiber Created by a group of Utah cities, the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency (UTOPIA) is a community-owned fiber-optic network that uses the Open Access model to promote competition by giving customers the freedom to choose which telecommunication services they want. With fiber availability to over 130,000 businesses and residences in over 50 communities, UTOPIA Fiber is the largest—and widely considered the most-successful—Open Access network in the United States, and enjoys the industry’s highest customer satisfaction scores. Since 2009, the agency has successfully designed, built, and operated nearly $400 million worth of fiber projects, all of which have been funded completely through subscriber revenue, at no cost to taxpayers.