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Communication infrastructure overhaul in western Montana

by HAYDEN BLACKFORD
Daily Inter Lake | December 7, 2022 12:00 AM

As part of the 15-year plan to expand voice, broadband and fiber connected communications across western Montana, Blackfoot Communications continues to replace outdated infrastructure.

The company recently sent out reminders to residents of what do expect during the process.

Blackfoot communications currently offers services over a network of both fiber optic and copper cables. Updated services are currently available in Thomson Falls and some surrounding areas, but soon Plains, Weeksville and Paradise will see network upgrades.

Some outdated cables have been buried in the ground long enough to deteriorate. Some infrastructure has been in place for more than 30 years. As such, the company said even currently functional systems will need to be replaced to avoid failures.

In order to fully replace some copper-based services which will be decommissioned in coming years, Blackfoot Communications will need to enter some private property. The company will then need to plow to install new fiber lines. Afterward, Blackfoot officials said the company will do its best to restore the property to its original condition, adding that they will disperse grass seed to promote growth.

In a message from Blackfoot Communications CEO Jason Williams, the company said they want to ensure affordable and reliable services to customers. In 2016 the company took steps to counter aging infrastructure. This meant the implementation of a multi-year, multi-million dollar project.

“We are focusing on areas where our copper network is the oldest first. We will replace this copper in the most densely populated areas first. This will cover 80% to 90% of all locations in each area. After we have replaced the oldest and most dense portions of an area, our goal is to return to those remaining areas and connect them to the new fiber network,” Blackfoot Communications said online.

The project is likely to take over 15 years, and cost $200 million, according to a press release. The funding comes in part from the federal Universal Service funding. The company was chosen to deliver broadband services to specific unserved and underserved service areas. Federal funding only covers part of the project’s budget, the company said.

Blackfoot Communications said this is the largest undertaking the company has attempted to date, and service will not be impacted during the construction phase. Generally, Blackfoot construction workers will be on an individual's property for one or two days. At some point individuals can expect Blackfoot Communications to reach out to them announcing their service will be cut for a few hours in order to initiate the final transfer of services.

In 2022 Blackfoot Communications began to work in areas around Georgetown Lake and toward Anaconda.

In 2023 and 2024 there will be work done in the Bitterroot Valley to the South of Darby including Conner, and West Fork and East fork areas. By 2025 there are plans to work in the upper portion of Lolo Creek to the Lolo Hots Springs area, and there are other plans available on the company’s website. Maps of services and future services are available on the company website.

To learn more about this project, visit blackfootcommunications.com, or call 406-541-5000.