Government Initiatives to Bridge the Digital Divide in Montana

1. What steps has Montana taken to promote digital literacy among its citizens?

Here are five steps that Montana has taken to promote digital literacy among its citizens:

1. Digital Literacy Initiative: In 2017, the State Library of Montana launched the Digital Literacy Initiative with the goal of improving digital literacy skills among residents. This program provides resources and training for librarians and educators to incorporate digital literacy into their programming.

2. Broadband Infrastructure: The state government has invested in expanding broadband infrastructure across Montana, particularly in rural areas. This allows more residents to access the internet and learn digital skills.

3. Digital Learning Resources: The Office of Public Instruction has developed a variety of online learning resources for educators and students to improve their digital literacy skills. These resources cover topics such as internet safety, coding, and media literacy.

4. Technology Grants: The state government offers technology grants to libraries, schools, and community organizations that aim to improve access to technology and provide digital literacy training for individuals.

5. Community Workshops and Events: Local organizations, such as libraries, community centers, and non-profits, often hold workshops and events focused on digital literacy for residents. These opportunities provide hands-on learning experiences for individuals of all ages.

Overall, Montana has recognized the importance of digital literacy in today’s world and is actively working towards providing resources and opportunities for its citizens to develop these skills.

2. How is the government of Montana working towards bridging the digital divide in rural areas?

One way the government of Montana is working towards bridging the digital divide in rural areas is through various infrastructure and funding initiatives.

1. Broadband Infrastructure Grants: The state of Montana has allocated funds for broadband infrastructure development in underserved areas. The grants are given to telecommunication companies, cooperatives, and local governments to improve broadband access in their communities.

2. ConnectMT Program: In 2019, the state launched the ConnectMT program, a statewide initiative aimed at expanding broadband access and usage across rural areas. This program provides resources and technical assistance to communities to develop and implement local broadband plans.

3. Improving Mapping Data: The government is also working on improving data mapping for broadband coverage in rural areas. This will help identify areas with low or no internet access and target them for future infrastructure projects.

4. Montana Telecommunications Access Program (MTAP): This program provides financial assistance to low-income households in eligible counties to access affordable internet service.

5. Digital Literacy Training: The state has partnered with organizations such as the Montana Telecommunications Association to offer free digital literacy training programs in rural areas. These programs aim to educate residents on how to effectively use online resources for education, job searching, healthcare, and other essential services.

6. Public-Private Partnerships: To enhance broadband development in underserved communities, the state has encouraged public-private partnerships between telecommunication companies and local governments.

7. Tribal Broadband Initiatives: Montana’s Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs partners with tribal nations within the state to promote tribal broadband initiatives that serve indigenous communities.

8. Mobile Broadband Expansion: Another strategy being pursued by the government is expanding mobile broadband networks in rural areas by investing in new technologies like 5G or satellite-based internet services.

Overall, these efforts by the government of Montana are aimed at reducing the digital divide and ensuring that all residents have access to high-speed internet connectivity regardless of their location or income.

3. What are some specific policies implemented by Montana government to improve internet accessibility in low-income communities?

1. Broadband for Montana Schools Program: This program provides funding and resources to schools and school districts in low-income areas to increase internet access for students.

2. Affordable Internet Initiative: This initiative aims to make affordable internet service available to low-income households by partnering with internet service providers to offer discounted rates.

3. Telecommunications Assistance Program (TAP): TAP helps eligible low-income residents pay for basic telephone, cellular phone, or internet service.

4. Montana Universal Service Fund: This fund collects fees from telecommunications companies and distributes them to rural areas and low-income communities for the expansion of broadband infrastructure.

5. Digital Literacy Programs: The state government has invested in digital literacy programs in partnership with libraries, community centers, and other organizations to provide education and training on how to use the internet effectively.

6. Public-Private Partnerships: The government has collaborated with private companies to improve broadband infrastructure in underserved areas through initiatives such as ConnectMT.

7. State Broadband Plan: Montana has developed a comprehensive broadband plan that addresses issues such as affordability, adoption, and deployment of high-speed internet in low-income and rural communities.

8. Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program: CDBG provides funding for local governments and non-profit organizations to support community projects that improve infrastructure, including broadband services.

9. Rural Electric Cooperative Grants: These grants aim to help rural electric cooperatives fund broadband projects in their service areas.

10. State Broadband Coordinator: Montana has designated a State Broadband Coordinator who works with various stakeholders to address barriers to broadband access in low-income areas and develop solutions for improving connectivity.

4. In what ways is Montana ensuring affordable internet and computer access for underserved populations?

1. Broadband and Infrastructure Development: Montana has implemented a number of initiatives to improve broadband infrastructure in underserved areas, including the establishment of the Office of Consumer Counsel and the Montana Telecommunications Association. These organizations work to increase access to high-speed internet services for residents in remote and underserved areas.

2. Broadband Access Grants: The state has allocated funding for broadband access grants to expand access to unserved and underserved areas. In 2020, $8 million was designated for these grants, and an additional $20 million was allocated in 2021.

3. Digital Literacy Programs: To ensure that all residents have the necessary skills to utilize the internet effectively, Montana offers digital literacy programs through public libraries and community centers. These programs provide training on using computers, navigating the internet, and understanding online safety.

4. Low-Income Assistance Programs: Montana offers low-income assistance programs to help qualifying individuals pay for their internet services. These programs include Lifeline Assistance, which provides a monthly discount on phone or internet services, and the Connect Home program, which provides affordable high-speed internet access to low-income families with school-age children.

5. Public-Private Partnerships: The state has partnered with private internet service providers (ISPs) to expand broadband access in rural areas through public-private partnerships. These partnerships leverage government resources with private investments to bring high-speed internet access to underserved communities.

6. Digital Inclusion Task Force: In 2017, Montana established a Digital Inclusion Task Force to identify barriers to broadband deployment in underserved communities and develop strategies to address them. This task force includes representatives from government agencies, ISPs, community organizations, and tribal governments.

7. Public Wi-Fi Hotspots: The state has worked with ISPs to establish public Wi-Fi hotspots in public areas such as parks, libraries, transit stations, and community centers. This helps provide free internet access for those who may not have internet at home.

5. What are the key initiatives launched by Montana to expand broadband access across the state?

Some key initiatives launched by Montana to expand broadband access across the state include:

1. Montana Broadband Initiative (MBI): In 2009, the state government formed MBI to improve broadband access and adoption in Montana. The initiative has been working with various stakeholders like service providers, local governments, tribes, and community organizations to identify and address broadband needs across the state.

2. Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund: This fund supports infrastructure projects that promote economic development in Montana. Some of these projects include expanding fiber networks in unserved areas to increase broadband access.

3. ConnectMontana: In 2018, Governor Steve Bullock launched ConnectMontana, a statewide effort to improve connectivity and bridge the digital divide in underserved areas. The program provides grants for broadband infrastructure development and digital literacy training.

4. Farm-to-Market Fiber Program: This program aims to bring high-speed fiber internet to underserved rural communities in Montana. It provides grants to local governments or cooperatives to build fiber infrastructure along highways that connect farms, ranches, and other businesses.

5. Telecommunications Education & Assistance in MT (TEAM): This program provides technical assistance and education on broadband technology for communities, businesses, and individuals in Montana.

6. Digital Works Program: This workforce development program trains individuals for teleworking jobs and helps them find employment with companies that provide remote job opportunities.

7. Broadband Mapping Initiative: The state continues to work on improving its broadband mapping efforts by collecting accurate data on availability and speed of internet services across the state. This information is used to make informed decisions about future infrastructure investments.

8. Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs): Montana has also encouraged PPPs between local governments or cooperatives and private ISPs to expand broadband infrastructure in underserved areas.

9.Broadband Tax Credits: In 2019, a law was passed that offers tax credits to service providers who invest in expanding broadband infrastructure in unserved or underserved areas of the state.

10. Broadband Improvement Districts: In 2017, Montana passed a bill that allowed local communities to form broadband improvement districts and issue bonds to help fund broadband projects.

6. What role does the government of Montana play in addressing issues of unequal internet access between urban and rural areas?

The government of Montana plays a significant role in addressing issues of unequal internet access between urban and rural areas through several measures, including:

1. Funding initiatives: The state government has implemented funding initiatives to improve broadband infrastructure and expand high-speed internet availability in rural areas. For example, the Rural Broadband Initiative provides grants for broadband projects in underserved areas.

2. Policy and regulation: The government has enacted policies and regulations to promote competition and incentivize internet service providers (ISPs) to invest in rural infrastructure. This includes laws that prohibit providers from discriminating against or obstructing access to certain websites, services, or content.

3. Public-private partnerships: The state has partnered with private companies to deploy broadband infrastructure in underserved areas. This allows for more efficient use of resources and expertise while also promoting competition among ISPs.

4. Digital literacy programs: The government has invested in digital literacy programs to help people living in rural areas access and effectively use the internet. These programs aim to bridge the digital divide by providing training on how to use devices, navigate the internet, and leverage its benefits.

5. Mapping and data collection: The state government conducts regular mapping exercises to identify underserved areas and measure progress made in expanding broadband access. This helps guide investment decisions and ensures targeted allocation of resources.

6. Advocacy: The government advocates at the federal level for policies that support equal access to the internet for both urban and rural communities. This includes lobbying for increased funding for rural broadband projects and urging national policymakers to adopt measures that promote fair competition among ISPs.

Overall, the government of Montana plays an essential role in addressing unequal internet access between urban and rural areas by providing funding, enacting policies, fostering public-private partnerships, promoting digital literacy, conducting mapping exercises, and advocating for equal access at all levels of government.

7. How is Montana promoting tech education and skills development to close the digital divide among its citizens?

Montana has several initiatives in place to promote tech education and skills development and close the digital divide among its citizens, including:

1. Montana Code Girls: This program aims to increase the number of girls interested in technology and tech-related fields by providing hands-on coding and computer science workshops.

2. Montana Telecommunications Access Program (MTAP): MTAP provides funding for schools to purchase internet access and networking equipment.

3. Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition: Montana is a member of the SHLB Coalition, which works to advance broadband connectivity for anchor institutions such as schools, libraries, and healthcare providers. This helps ensure that these institutions have access to high-speed internet, which can be extended to surrounding communities.

4. Montana Digital Academy: This online school offers courses for students across the state, including specialized classes in computer science, coding, and other technology-related subjects.

5. TechHire Montana: This program connects employers with trained workers through partnerships with universities, community colleges, workforce development agencies, and other organizations. It aims to provide training opportunities for individuals looking to enter or advance in tech-related careers.

6. Big Sky Code Academy: This coding bootcamp provides intensive training in software development and coding skills for individuals looking to enter the tech industry.

7. Tech Partnership Initiative: This initiative encourages collaboration between businesses and schools to support STEM education and create a pipeline of skilled workers for high-demand tech jobs.

By investing in these programs and initiatives, Montana is working towards closing the digital divide by providing opportunities for all its citizens to develop essential tech skills and access vital resources.

8. Can you provide examples of successful public-private partnerships in Montana that have helped bridge the digital divide?

1. Montana Digital Academy (MTDA): The MTDA is a partnership between the Board of Regents of the Montana University System and local school districts throughout the state. It provides online courses to over 15,000 students in 130 schools, bridging the digital divide by providing equal access to quality education regardless of geographical location.

2. Bresnan Communications and Rural Broadband Providers: In 2013, Bresnan Communications partnered with five rural broadband providers in Eastern Montana to expand broadband services to underserved areas. This partnership helped bring high-speed internet to over 7,000 rural homes and businesses.

3. Lake County Connects Initiative: This public-private partnership was formed to bring high-speed internet access to Lake County, Montana. Through a combination of private investments and grant funding, over 500 miles of fiber optic cable were installed, connecting all schools, health clinics, libraries and government buildings to high-speed internet.

4. Mission Mountain Enterprises and Verizon Wireless: In response to the lack of broadband access for individuals with disabilities in Western Montana, Mission Mountain Enterprises (a non-profit organization) partnered with Verizon Wireless to provide specialized devices that enable individuals with disabilities to access high-speed internet.

5. T-Mobile’s “Connecting Heroes” Program: This program provides free unlimited wireless service for first responders in rural areas where there may be weak or no coverage from other carriers. It has helped bridge the digital divide for emergency personnel in remote parts of Montana.

6. Montana Telecommunications Access Program (MTAP): This program is a collaboration between the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services and telecommunication companies across the state. MTAP provides discounted phone and internet services for low-income Montanans with disabilities, helping them stay connected in today’s digital world.

7. Blackfoot Communications’ “Fiber-To-The-Home”: In 2017, Blackfoot Communications partnered with local communities in Northwest Montana to improve broadband access through their “Fiber-To-The-Home” project. This partnership helped bring high-speed internet to nearly 3,000 households in the region.

8. Shopify and Ennis Incubator: In 2019, global e-commerce giant Shopify partnered with local business accelerator “Ennis Incubator” to provide training and support for entrepreneurs in rural communities. The partnership has helped businesses overcome the digital divide by teaching them how to leverage digital tools and platforms to reach a wider audience.

9. What measures has Montana taken to address disparities in quality of internet service between different regions within the state?

1. Expanding broadband infrastructure: In 2019, Montana passed the Montana Broadband Act which provided $2 million in grants for broadband infrastructure projects in underserved areas of the state.

2. Promoting public-private partnerships: The state has encouraged partnerships between private internet service providers and local governments to improve broadband access in rural and underserved areas.

3. Funding for rural broadband projects: The Montana Department of Commerce’s Main Street Montana Project funds projects that support economic development, including broadband expansion in rural areas.

4. Collaborating with tribal communities: The State of Montana has partnered with tribal governments to expand broadband access on reservations and improve connectivity for Native American communities.

5. State-specific funding initiatives: In 2020, Governor Steve Bullock launched a $20 million grant program to expand high-speed internet access in rural parts of the state through a partnership with local internet providers.

6. Mapping and data collection: The State Broadband Program collects data on internet connectivity and speeds across the state to identify areas that need improvement and guide funding allocation decisions.

7. Education and awareness programs: Montana has implemented programs to educate residents about the benefits of broadband service and how to access resources for improving their internet connections.

8. Community initiatives: Many communities within Montana have taken their own steps to improve broadband access, such as creating local broadband coalitions or investing in community-owned fiber networks.

9. Legislative progress: In addition to the Montana Broadband Act, lawmakers have introduced bills aimed at addressing disparities in quality of internet service between different regions within the state, including efforts to increase funding for rural broadband projects and incentivize private investment in underserved areas.

10. How has the government of Montana utilized technology to improve service delivery and accessibility for citizens?

Some ways in which the government of Montana has utilized technology to improve service delivery and accessibility for citizens are:

1. Online Services: The official website of the state government,, offers a variety of online services such as vehicle registration renewal, driver’s license renewal, hunting and fishing licenses, property tax payments, etc. This makes it easier for citizens to access these services from the comfort of their homes.

2. Mobile Apps: The state government has developed several mobile apps to make information and services more easily accessible to citizens. For example, My Montana Mobile provides real-time road conditions and emergency alerts, while Fish MT allows users to purchase fishing licenses and check regulations.

3. Interactive Maps: The state government uses interactive maps on its website to provide visual information on topics such as wildfires, population statistics, business locations, etc. This makes it easier for citizens to find relevant information in a visual format.

4. Social Media: The government of Montana uses social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to provide updates and communicate with citizens about issues affecting them. This helps in reaching a wider audience quickly and efficiently.

5. Online Information Portals: The government has various online portals where citizens can access information on topics such as job openings, healthcare options, education resources, etc. These portals provide easy access to important information that is relevant to citizens’ daily lives.

6. E-government Initiatives: Montana has implemented various e-government initiatives such as electronic voting systems, online motor vehicle registration systems, online tax filing systems, etc., which have improved service delivery and made it more convenient for citizens.

7. Broadband Infrastructure: The state government has invested in improving broadband infrastructure across the state, especially in rural areas. This has helped in providing equal access to technology-based services for all citizens.

8. Telehealth Services: In recent years, telehealth services have been expanded in Montana through initiatives like Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes). This has allowed citizens, especially in rural areas, to access healthcare services remotely and receive specialized care without having to travel long distances.

9. Online Education: The Montana Digital Academy provides online education options for high school students, giving them greater flexibility in their learning. This has also been helpful in reaching students who live in remote or underserved areas.

10. Open Data Initiatives: The state government has established an open data portal that provides public access to various datasets related to the state’s economy, education, health, environment, etc. This promotes transparency and accountability in government practices and allows citizens to access and utilize data for their own purposes.

11. Are there any specific efforts being made by Montana to increase digital inclusion for marginalized communities such as people with disabilities or seniors?

Yes, there are several initiatives and efforts being made in Montana to increase digital inclusion for marginalized communities such as people with disabilities and seniors:

1. Montana Telecommunications Access Program: This program provides financial assistance to individuals with disabilities for the purchase of specialized telecommunications equipment such as amplified phones and captioned telephones.

2. Aging and Disability Resource Centers (ADRCs): These centers offer a range of services to help seniors and people with disabilities navigate the complexities of technology, including computer skills training, assistive technology resources, and assistance with setting up home internet access.

3. Digital Literacy Education: The Montana State Library offers digital literacy trainings through its Library Development Division to help seniors and people with disabilities improve their technology skills.

4. Broadband Access Programs: The Montana Department of Commerce offers grants and loans for broadband infrastructure projects in underserved areas, increasing access to high-speed internet for marginalized communities.

5. Telecommunications Consumer Protection Program: This program operates a toll-free line for consumers to report issues such as inaccessible websites or difficulty accessing telecommunications services due to a disability.

6. Partnerships with Nonprofit Organizations: The state partners with nonprofit organizations such as the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program (NDBEDP) to provide free specialized telecommunications equipment to low-income individuals who are deaf-blind.

7. Accessibility Standards: Government agencies in Montana are required to comply with state accessibility standards when designing websites and digital services, making them more accessible for people with disabilities.

Overall, these efforts demonstrate a commitment by the state of Montana towards promoting digital inclusion for marginalized communities, including those that may face barriers due to disability or age.

12. What innovative approaches is Montana using to increase broadband penetration in remote or underserved areas?

1. State Broadband Office: Montana has created a State Broadband Office within the Department of Commerce to coordinate efforts to increase broadband access, adoption, and use across the state.

2. Mapping and Data Collection: The Montana State Broadband Office is working with national partners such as the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to improve broadband mapping and data collection. This will help identify gaps in broadband coverage and inform future investment decisions.

3. Public-Private Partnerships: Montana is exploring public-private partnerships to bring broadband service to remote or underserved areas. This involves working with private companies and local communities to invest in infrastructure and expand service.

4. Grant Programs: The Montana Department of Commerce offers grant programs, such as the Treasure State Endowment Program (TSEP) and the Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund (BSTF), to fund infrastructure projects that support economic development, including broadband expansion.

5. Community-led initiatives: Many local communities in Montana have taken on their own initiatives to expand broadband access. For example, Missoula County launched a $2 million county-wide broadband initiative that aims to provide high-speed internet service to over 90% of residents.

6. Wireless Broadband Initiatives: In areas where traditional wired infrastructure may not be feasible, Montana is exploring wireless solutions such as fixed wireless technology, satellite internet, and TV White Space technology to deliver broadband access in remote areas.

7. Telehealth Programs: Montana is leveraging telehealth programs to increase access to healthcare services for rural residents through high-speed internet connections.

8. Broadband Infrastructure Bonding Program: The Governor’s Office of Budget & Program Planning has introduced a proposal for a new bond program that would help finance rural broadband infrastructure projects.

9. Digital Inclusion Efforts: To encourage digital literacy and bridge the digital divide in underserved areas, Montana has implemented digital inclusion efforts, such as providing computer training classes for seniors through the Aging Services Division.

10. Broadband Summit: The Montana State Broadband Office and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development host an annual broadband summit to bring together stakeholders, community leaders, and service providers to discuss solutions for increasing broadband access statewide.

11. Next Generation 911: Montana is working to upgrade its 911 network to Next Generation 911 (NG911), which will enable emergency services to better locate callers and assist them with new communication modes like text messaging and photos.

12. Broadband Innovation Zones: In partnership with local communities, the State Broadband Office has designated certain areas as “Broadband Innovation Zones” where companies can test new ideas and technologies for expanding broadband access.

13. How is data privacy and security being addressed by the government of Montana during its initiatives to bridge the digital divide?

The government of Montana takes data privacy and security very seriously, especially in regards to initiatives to bridge the digital divide. The state has laws and regulations in place to protect citizens’ personal information, including the Montana Consumer Protection Act and the Montana Data Security Breach Notification Law.

Additionally, the state has established the Office of Cybersecurity within the Department of Administration to oversee cybersecurity efforts and safeguard government systems and data. This office also provides guidance and support for local governments, businesses, and individuals on best practices for protecting their digital data.

In terms of bridging the digital divide, the government has implemented measures such as providing secure internet access at public libraries and schools, promoting cybersecurity awareness through educational programs, and partnering with private companies to ensure secure infrastructure for broadband connectivity projects.

Furthermore, any new digital initiatives undertaken by the state must comply with applicable data privacy laws and regulations. This ensures that citizens’ personal information is protected while accessing government services or participating in digitally-focused programs aimed at bridging the digital divide.

14. Can you share success stories of individuals or communities who have benefitted from government initiatives aimed at reducing the digital divide in Montana?

Yes, there have been several successful initiatives in Montana aimed at reducing the digital divide. Here are some examples:

1) Rural Broadband Expansion: The Montana government has implemented various programs and partnerships to expand broadband access in rural areas of the state. This has allowed for increased connectivity and access to resources for people living in these areas, leading to economic growth and development.

2) Telehealth Services: The state government has invested in telehealth services, particularly in rural and underserved areas, to ensure that all individuals have access to quality healthcare. This initiative has benefitted many individuals who previously had limited or no access to healthcare due to their location.

3) Online Education: In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the state government launched an online education initiative that provided funding, devices, and internet access to students from low-income families. This helped bridge the digital divide by ensuring that all students had equal opportunities for remote learning.

4) Digital Literacy Programs: Several community organizations and schools have partnered with the Montana government to offer digital literacy programs for seniors and other underserved individuals. These programs provide education on basic computer skills, internet safety, and how to use technology for everyday tasks such as job searching or managing finances.

5) Libraries Without Walls: In 2020, Montana launched a program called Libraries Without Walls which provides Wi-Fi hotspots and laptops for checkout at participating libraries. These resources have enabled individuals without home internet access to connect online from any location, reducing their digital divide.

These initiatives have successfully bridged the digital divide in various communities across Montana by providing key resources such as reliable internet access and digital literacy training. They have allowed individuals to stay connected with loved ones, access essential services like healthcare and education, and improve their overall quality of life.

15. Has there been any research or evaluation conducted on the effectiveness of various programs implemented by Montana to bridge the digital divide?

There have been a few studies and evaluations conducted on the effectiveness of programs implemented by Montana to bridge the digital divide. Here are a few examples:

1. Montana Communications Needs Assessment: This study, conducted in 2017 by the Montana Telecommunications Association, evaluated broadband availability and adoption in the state. It found that there is a significant divide in access to high-speed broadband in rural areas compared to urban areas, and recommended various solutions to address this gap.

2. ConnectMT Broadband Survey: In 2019, Governor Steve Bullock launched the ConnectMT initiative to gather data on broadband speeds and usage across the state. The results of this survey were used to identify areas in need of improved broadband services and inform future policy decisions.

3. Montana State Library Digital Divide Survey: This survey was conducted in 2016 by the Montana State Library to assess the impact of public library technology services on closing the digital divide. The results showed that libraries play a vital role in providing internet access and computer training to underserved populations.

4. Lifeline Assistance Study: In 2018, Governor Bullock commissioned an independent study of how federal Lifeline Assistance subsidies were being used in Montana. The study found that these subsidies helped low-income households gain access to essential telecommunications services, including high-speed internet.

Overall, these studies have shown that while progress has been made in bridging the digital divide in Montana, there is still much work to be done. Implementation of various programs such as ConnectMT and Lifeline Assistance has helped expand broadband access, but more efforts are needed to ensure equitable access for all residents of the state.

16. How has collaboration with local governments and community organizations played a role in tackling the issue of unequal access to technology in Montana?

Collaboration with local governments and community organizations has played a crucial role in addressing the issue of unequal access to technology in Montana. Local governments often have direct knowledge and understanding of the specific needs and challenges faced by their communities, and can therefore play a key role in identifying and addressing disparities in technology access.

One way that local governments have collaborated with community organizations is through partnerships to provide affordable or free internet access to low-income or underserved areas. For example, some local governments have partnered with internet service providers (ISPs) to expand broadband infrastructure into rural or underserved areas, making it more accessible for residents.

Additionally, local governments may work with community organizations to develop digital literacy programs that teach basic computer skills and promote the use of technology for educational, job training, and communication purposes. These programs can also help bridge the gap between those who do not have access to technology and those who do, promoting digital inclusion and reducing disparities.

Community organizations also play a crucial role in tackling unequal access to technology by advocating for policies that promote digital equity at the state level. They may also provide resources and support for individuals or families who lack technology access, such as distributing laptops or tablets or offering low-cost internet options.

Overall, collaboration between local governments and community organizations helps to identify areas where there are gaps in technology access and implement targeted solutions that address those gaps. By working together, they can better understand the specific needs of their communities and find innovative ways to ensure equal access to technology for all Montanans.

17. Is there a plan in place for sustained efforts to bridge the digital divide in Montana, or are initiatives on a case-by-case basis?

It appears that efforts to bridge the digital divide in Montana are on a case-by-case basis, rather than part of a comprehensive statewide plan. The state government and various organizations have implemented initiatives and programs to increase access to high-speed internet and digital resources in underserved areas, but there is not one unified plan or strategy for addressing the digital divide in Montana.

18. How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected government initiatives to bridge the digital divide in Montana specifically?

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of closing the digital divide in Montana and has spurred increased efforts by the government to address this issue. Here are some specific ways in which the pandemic has affected government initiatives to bridge the digital divide in Montana:

1. Increased Funding: The Montana state government, along with federal agencies, have allocated additional funding towards improving broadband infrastructure and increasing internet access across the state. This funding is vital for expanding broadband networks to underserved areas and providing resources for schools, libraries, and other public institutions.

2. Online Education: With schools closed due to the pandemic, education has moved online. This has showcased the impact of limited internet access on students’ ability to continue their education remotely. To mitigate this issue, the state government has launched programs such as “Stay Connected” that offer free or low-cost internet services for families with school-aged children.

3. Telehealth Services: The pandemic has also led to a surge in demand for telehealth services, making internet access essential for healthcare delivery. To ensure equitable access to healthcare services, Montana’s governor issued an Executive Order expanding telemedicine coverage through Medicaid.

4. Digital Inclusion Programs: The state government has also taken steps to promote digital literacy and provide technology resources to underserved communities during the pandemic. For instance, the Public Service Commission approved a project that will distribute Chromebooks and laptops equipped with internet service hotspots to 11 K-12 schools.

5. Broadband Mapping Project: The Montana Department of Administration recently launched a broadband mapping project aimed at identifying areas with limited or no broadband access and developing strategies to improve connectivity in those regions.

Overall, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought greater attention and urgency towards addressing the digital divide in Montana, leading to increased efforts by the government to bridge this gap through various initiatives and investments.

19. What measures are being taken by Montana to ensure equitable access to technology and internet for students across all school districts?

Montana is taking several measures to ensure equitable access to technology and internet for students across all school districts, including:

1. The Montana Office of Public Instruction (OPI) has partnered with the Montana Information Technology Services Division to provide free broadband internet access to rural and underserved schools through a statewide network.

2. Through the Montana ConnectED Program, OPI is providing grants to schools to improve their digital infrastructure and increase access to technology for students.

3. OPI has also created the K-12 Education Opportunity Network (KEON) to connect schools and libraries with high-speed broadband internet at affordable rates.

4. The state legislature has allocated funding for the expansion of broadband infrastructure in rural areas, making it easier for schools in these areas to access high-speed internet.

5. OPI has also implemented a Digital Learning Academy, which provides online courses to students who may not have access to certain classes at their local school.

6. The state has also partnered with various organizations and initiatives, such as EveryoneOn and ConnectAmeria, to help provide low-cost or free internet service and devices to families in need.

7. Schools are encouraged to apply for E-rate funding, a federal program that provides discounts on telecommunications services and products for schools and libraries.

8. School districts are required by law to have an acceptable use policy for technology that addresses issues of equity and fairness in student access.

9. OPI offers professional development opportunities for teachers on how to integrate technology into their curriculum, ensuring that all students have equal opportunities for digital learning.

Overall, Montana is committed to ensuring that all students have equitable access to technology and internet resources in order to support their education and future success.

20. Can you discuss any future plans or goals of Montana government regarding bridging the digital divide and how they will be implemented without leaving any communities behind?

As a state, Montana has recognized the importance of bridging the digital divide in creating a more equitable and connected society. The following are some future plans and goals of Montana government regarding this issue, along with potential implementation strategies to ensure that no communities are left behind.

1. Promoting broadband access and affordability: One key goal of Montana’s government is to ensure broadband access for all residents, regardless of their location or income level. To achieve this, the state can work with internet service providers (ISPs) to expand their coverage in rural and underserved areas. Additionally, the government can provide subsidies or tax incentives to ISPs that offer affordable plans to low-income families.

2. Investing in infrastructure: The state may also plan to invest in building or upgrading broadband infrastructure in underserved areas through partnerships with private companies or by utilizing federal funding opportunities like the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. This will not only improve internet access but also create job opportunities and boost economic development.

3. Educating and empowering communities: Another important aspect of bridging the digital divide is educating communities on the benefits and uses of digital technologies. The state can support community organizations and local governments in organizing workshops, training programs, and other initiatives to increase digital literacy skills among residents.

4. Addressing affordability issues: In addition to expanding broadband infrastructure, it is crucial to address affordability barriers as well. One way for Montana’s government to achieve this goal is by promoting competition among ISPs, which can provide more affordable options for residents.

5.Tackling language barriers: Montana’s diverse population includes Native American communities with different languages spoken within them. To address this challenge, the government can invest resources in providing translated materials, promote multilingual digital literacy programs, and partner with tribal governments to identify their specific needs.

6.Addressing connectivity challenges: Many rural areas face challenges related to geography when it comes to connecting them with reliable internet services. In such cases, policymakers can work with technology companies to explore alternative methods such as satellite internet or fixed wireless options.

To ensure that no communities are left behind in the implementation of these plans, the state government must consult with diverse stakeholders, including community organizations, local governments, ISPs, and underserved communities themselves. Prioritizing the needs of marginalized communities and involving them in decision-making processes can help identify and address any potential gaps in access and services.

In conclusion, bridging the digital divide requires a multi-pronged approach that includes infrastructure development, education and empowerment, addressing affordability issues and unique challenges faced by diverse communities. The Montana government’s commitment to this issue and its collaboration with various stakeholders can pave the way towards achieving a more connected and equitable society for all residents.