2021 Legislative Session

The 67th session of the Montana Legislature adjourned on April 29, 2021 after passing several game-changing broadband measures advocated by MTA. 

SB 297. Sponsored by Sen. Jason Ellsworth (R-Hamilton), the “ConnectMT” broadband infrastructure program establishes a grant and RFP process for funding broadband expansion and enhancement in Montana.  The bill defines eligible nongovernmental broadband providers and sets out criteria for reviewing applications for broadband funding.  It prioritizes investment in “frontier,” unserved and underserved areas and includes a number of criteria for reviewing broadband projects.  MTA successfully fended off attempts to water down the legislation and helped strengthen many of its provisions. 

HB 632.  Sponsored by Rep. Frank Garner (R-Kalispell), this bill affectionately became known as “the beast.”  It allocates roughly $1 billion appropriated by Congress in March, 2021, from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).  Once again, MTA played both offense and defense to ensure HB 632 maximizes broadband investment opportunities for Montana’s broadband providers and consumers.  Most importantly, the bill appropriates $275 million for broadband communications projects.  It requires matching funds from broadband providers and local governments, and created an advisory commission comprising 3 Senators, 3 Representatives and 3 members appointed by the Governor. 

Next steps.  The Department of Commerce is setting up an administrative structure to receive and review broadband grant project proposals and recommend projects for consideration by the communications advisory commission.  We expect an application window to open later this year.

SB 51.  Also sponsored by Sen. Ellsworth, this bill provides a property tax moratorium on the deployment of new fiber optic facilities in Montana—except new fiber funded by ARPA through SB 297.  

See MTA’s detailed list of bills we tracked this Session.  Over 2,000 bills were introduced; about 1,300 were heard; and about 700 were passed by the Legislature to be signed (or vetoed) by the Governor.  



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