Yellowstone Fiber looks to BEAD, ARPA to speed Montana broadband build

Yellowstone Fiber already has $65 million in private funding in hand to build an open access network in Montana, but is now seeking to tap into millions more in federal funding to accelerate the pace of its rollout.

Formerly known as Bozeman Fiber, the operator teamed with UTOPIA Fiber in late 2021 and announced plans to deliver fiber to more than 20,000 locations across the city of Bozeman, Montana. It subsequently rebranded as Yellowstone Fiber and kicked off construction in February.

An operator representative told Fierce its original deployment plan would’ve seen it start work in the city’s urban core and fuel deployments in more rural areas using subscriber revenue generated by those initial rollouts. By tapping into federal funding provided to the state via the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program and American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), Yellowstone Fiber could reach those rural areas two to three years faster than originally expected, the representative added.

“For decades, people in rural Montana have been limited by slow and expensive internet service and empty promises by cable providers,” Yellowstone Fiber CEO Greg Metzger said at a press conference. “Today’s announcement signals we’re serious about connecting rural Gallatin County to high-speed fiber and the limitless possibilities that it brings. Connecting Montana to high-speed fiber is as significant as rural electrification was eighty years ago.”

Thus far, Yellowstone has applied for $10 million in ARPA funding through the state’s ConnectMT program. An initial application window for $266 million in funding closed at the end of April. The state received a total of 80 funding requests from 24 applicants seeking a total of $521 million.

Yellowstone wants to use the funding to cover 15 unserved and 1,522 underserved locations in Gallatin County. Cable operator Charter Communications is also seeking funding for Gallatin County, requesting more than $11 million to cover 63 unserved locations and 2,111 underserved locations across the county within a 23 month timeframe.

A challenge process for ConnectMT applications closed on June 4 and applicants had until June 30 to submit revisions. It is unclear when awards will be made.

In addition to the ARPA funding, Montana is also set to receive at least $100 million in BEAD funding. Additional BEAD funding beyond that total will be based on the number of unserved and underseved locations on coverage maps which have yet to be released by the Federal Communications Commission.

Metzger said work is moving ahead while it waits to secure funding, with Yellowstone set to open pre-sales this week and onboard its first customers in late September. The first six ISPs on Yellowstone’s open access network will include Blackfoot, Global Net, Hoplite Industries, Skynet, Tri-County Telephone Associates and XMission.