Photo Illustration, Money Computer Internet Speeds

With Montana having some of the slowest bandwidth in the country, Bozeman leaders have prioritized bringing faster internet speeds to the city.

A recent study done by HighSpeedInternet.com found that Montana had the fourth slowest internet speeds in the country, after Alaska, Mississippi, and Idaho. As Bozeman grows and tries to attract new businesses and remote workers, officials say it will be important for the city to offer internet speeds that can meet companies’ needs.

“The tech scene is a very vital one in the community and it’s only getting stronger,” said Brit Fontenot, director of economic development for the City of Bozeman.

The states with the highest internet speeds in the study were concentrated in the northeast, with Maryland’s speeds being more than twice as fast as Montana’s.

It’s easier to provide fast internet in more densely-populated areas, said Greg Metzger, CEO of Bozeman Fiber, a nonprofit fiber network connecting Bozeman’s business hubs.

In a place like Montana, where people and places are spread out, it takes a lot more money to serve fewer people, he said. And there’s a lot of competition to get grants and other funding to build more infrastructure in places like out in the county.

“It’s just expensive,” he said. “There are a lot of people in a lot of states trying to get that money.”

To grow the fiber network within Bozeman, Fontenot said the city commission unanimously passed a resolution declaring broadband as essential infrastructure in April. While the city can’t provide internet services, it can lay down the conduit for fiber networks.

That conduit is an orange tube that can hold up to seven fiber optic wires from different providers. Fontenot said he often sees those orange tubes sticking out of the ground across town, but he hopes to see more.

City engineers are about to start working on engineering standards for fiber infrastructure for the conduits, he said, and the city is asking developers to consider installing fiber infrastructure anytime they open up a road or put down a parking lot. They’ll want it in the future, and he said it’s much cheaper to put it in pre-development.

“We need to make orange plastic pipe as ubiquitous as blue plastic water pipes,” he said.

The city also wants to create a master plan for the conduit system that carries the network, keeping its map of fiber infrastructure updated and using conduit lease revenue to expand.

Fontenot estimates the master plan will cost about $100,000, though it was only allotted $50,000 by the city commission. He will either have to find money elsewhere or scale back the project to make up the difference, he said.

The city’s economic development department was behind the plan for a community-based fiber network. In 2015, the city created Bozeman Fiber to fund, build and manage the high-speed internet network.

Since then, it has struggled to pick up customers. The nonprofit initially connected the city of Bozeman, Gallatin County and area public schools to the network. But it hasn’t been able to sign on Montana State University and Bozeman Health, two major employers Metzger hopes to add.

The nonprofit has grown at its expected pace, he said, and has been successful signing on smaller businesses.

Scott Dehlendorf, a developer behind the Cannery District, said that fiber is the new standard for internet, and having fiber has helped it acquire tenants.

“I think it’s definitely been a competitive advantage for us to be able to have fiber and all the other communication options,” he said.

Abby Lynes can be reached at alynes@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2651. Follow her on Twitter @Abby_Lynes.

Abby Lynes covers business and the economy for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.