The first phase of Bozeman’s gigabit fiber service wrapped up construction last month, though it may be some time before most residents have access to faster or cheaper internet service.

Currently, only government offices in Gallatin County and the city of Bozeman, as well as area public schools are tapped into the 24-mile, $3 million stretch of fiber, while downtown businesses should see internet service providers offering access through the network in the coming weeks.

Those Internet providers — which include Helena-based Treasure State Internet, TCT out of Wyoming, and Bozeman-based Global Net Inc. — will have the option to run lines to nearby residences. However, according to project officials, most neighborhoods likely won’t see service until a couple of years down the road.

“Within a few hundred feet of where the fiber currently is will be available day one of commercial operations,” said Anthony Cochenour, president of the board of Bozeman Fiber. “As far as expanding the network and running under our own steam, (we want to) get business first, fill the coffers, then in years two and three make a bigger push into residential areas.”

The completed line, a mixture of buried and aerial fiber, loops from Main Street to College Street, north on Cottonwood Road, and includes a stretch down South Third Avenue. Once the physical cable is in place, Internet providers tap into it, running individual lines to adjacent businesses or residences. The simplest analogy, said David Fine, economic development specialist for the city, is to think of the installed fiber as a city street, with businesses utilizing the street to offer their product or services.

“The Bozeman Fiber network is like a public road. There isn’t separate road construction for UPS or the U.S. Postal Service, they share it to provide a varied service and competitive offerings,” he said.

Bozeman Fiber

Bozeman's 24-mile, $3 million gigabit fiber network wrapped up construction in October. Project leaders plan to expand the network to residential areas in the coming years.

The organization’s future plans include connecting Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital through Kagy Boulevard, as well as installing additional line west of town. The nonprofit hopes to have up to 10 internet providers connected to the line by the end of the year, Cochenour said.

“They see the opportunities to come in and shake up the market. That helps the consumers, because they have more choices than they did last year,” he said.

The community-based fiber project has been stewing for more than four years, Cochenour added, with Bozeman city officials first endorsing the creation of the Bozeman Fiber nonprofit in May 2015. While the “anchor tenants” — which include the city and public schools — have seats on the board, the organization operates as a privately funded entity, financed by a series of bank loans.

“While setting up Bozeman Fiber was important for economic development, we wanted it to be an agency that stands on its own. Bozeman Fiber is running its own show,” said Fine.

The added bandwidth will allow public and private entities to more effectively video conference or use cloud computing tools, Fine added. Among other applications, the city plans to use its newfound capabilities to stream high definition surveillance video from its parking garages.

“It’s 10 times as fast at a lower cost,” Fine said. “The number one thing we’re doing is saving the taxpayers’ money.”

Having the fiber infrastructure in place also incentivizes businesses to relocate to or stay in the Gallatin Valley, Cochenour said.

“The goal is to expand the network as much as possible under our own steam,” he said.

“Economics, health care and education being our three guiding goals; that’s absolutely critical.”

Bozeman Fiber plans to monitor network usage and demand over the next year before proceeding with future expansion.

“We’re already succeeding in terms of coordination,” Cochenour said. “Boy, am I happy to see where we are.”

Kendall can be reached at Kendall is on Twitter at @lewdak

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