By Deb Courson Smith

Job opportunities will elude millions of mostly rural Americans because they lack access to high-speed Internet, according to a new report by the Federal Communications Commission. And Montana residents lack that access at a rate more than three times the national average, affecting about 276,000 people.

Sharon Gillett, chief of the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau, says progress in broadband deployment has been made across the nation, but a hefty workload remains – especially in rural areas.

“We need to continue with our reforms in order to ensure that everybody gets broadband. We still have 26 million people without the standard level of broadband service in the country, and that’s too many. We need to close that gap.”

The report, which is the FCC’s yearly national check of broadband deployment, says an estimated 29 percent of Montanans live in areas without broadband availability. And where it is available, the FCC discovered another hurdle – not everyone wants to subscribe. So, Gillett says digital literacy projects are important.

“Often it’s cost, but not always. Sometimes it’s just that they don’t believe it’s relevant in their lives. But, there are many who aren’t subscribing that we also view broadband adoption as an issue that we definitely need to be working on.”

The FCC is looking to more public-private partnerships to ramp up access, similar to the way telephone service was expanded. The agency believes reforming the Universal Service Fund will also help to extend high-speed Internet to under-served areas.

The FCC Broadband Progress Report can be found at fcc.gov.