Tonight the city of Missoula and Missoula County met to discuss a study that could change internet use in the area. They’re talking about enhancing broadband, which would provide fast and reliable internet. That's if the city invests in a 60-mile self-financed open-access fiber-optic network.
One city council member who pushed for the upgrade told us about the benefits broadband internet would have for the city.
"A positive effect on stopping Missoula's brain drain and making sure folks can stay here and thrive, and making us more attractive to communities or to businesses that want to locate in a community with a high quality of life, but also the technology infrastructure they need to be successful," explained Missoula City Council Member Caitlin Copple.
The network option would connect more than 50 entities to each other, and would include K-12 schools, University of Montana, health care centers and city and county facilities.
Businesses would also benefit if Missoula goes to broadband.
"We think this represents the future of our business and a lot of businesses like ours in Missoula. You have to have, not only the access, but you also have to have this affordable," explained Geographic Communication Systems Founder and President Alex Philp.
Philp’s company builds mapping systems for people all over the world. He couldn't wait for Missoula to catch up, so his business already cut a deal with Montana West to up their fiber-optic connection. But he supports the City of Missoula going forward with this plan and explains how his company will be affected by this.
"It impacts our company in terms of, we're recruiting from the University and who we're hiring. It impacts the livelihood of the people who work for us and how they live in Missoula, entertainment, and it's impacting our ability every second to compete with companies all over the world," said Philp.
Other cities in Montana are already working their way to similar fiber-optic network projects, including Butte and Bozeman. A new system will help areas that are in need of reliable broadband, including the local school systems and the university.
One concern comes from local providers who want to be included.
"Whatever comes out of this, is hopefully some kind of partnership. I find it disconcerting that the working group that's recommended, the chart that was up there, has no service providers at all in the working group," said one local service provider.
The next phase of the plan is to put together a working group to get the project moving. City Council and supporters expressed that they want local providers to be involved with the push.
Philp expressed his concern with Missoula being behind as a community without broadband, but thinks the city has taken the first step in the right direction.
"We're at a turning point and now we have to tackle this, again with passion, vigor and thoughtful analysis," explained Philp.
Right now it would cost the city around $10 million to build the network. Officials explained that they plan to use municipal bonds to pay for it so it won't come out of taxpayers’ pockets.