Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s backing of a cable firm’s bid for federal economic stimulus funds to expand high-speed Internet service in rural areas has drawn sharp criticism from telephone companies and their chief regulator in the state.
Bresnan Communications, a cable TV and Internet provider, has proposed building a 1,885-mile fiber-optic network to pipe broadband to seven Indian reservations and other underserved areas of the state. Schweitzer’s office singled out the Bresnan project from more than a dozen competing proposals as a “top priority,” urging the U.S. Department of Commerce to fully fund it at a cost of $70 million.
Telephone companies blasted Schweitzer for endorsing the Bresnan plan, charging that it would duplicate the firms’ existing long-distance fiber-optic lines in rural areas, including the Indian reservations. The Montana Public Service Commission also criticized Bresnan’s proposal, saying that it failed to increase critical “last-mile” broadband access for homes and businesses.
Officials with Bresnan and the state’s Indian tribes defended the project. They said the new network would eventually provide faster, cheaper broadband Internet service to Indian reservations, fostering business development and boosting employment.
Federal officials were expected to decide by January which projects in the state will receive stimulus funds.