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Broadband fiber project kicks off in Gallatin County | BDC

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Broadband fiber project kicks off in Gallatin County
By Nora Shelly Chronicle Staff Writer Jan 27, 2022

With a new name and $65 million, a project to install broadband fiber throughout Bozeman and the surrounding area kicked off Thursday.

Yellowstone Fiber — formerly Bozeman Fiber — is set to begin installing cables as soon as this spring. Though the organization will begin with installation in the city, the nonprofit’s CEO, Greg Metzger, said during a press conference Thursday that the name change reflects their goal to expand beyond Bozeman.

“Our vision is to go all the way out into the county. If I can go to every single property line at the very far side of the county, that’s our goal. We want to serve every citizen that we can,” Metzger said. “It’s bigger than just Bozeman. We’re going to go as far as we can.”

The nonprofit is partnering with UTOPIA Fiber, which is based in Utah, for the installation work. UTOPIA’s Executive Director Roger Timmerman said Thursday that the first phase of installation concentrated within city limits will take two or three years to complete.That phase is funded with $65 million in bonds that Gallatin County helped the nonprofit secure. No taxpayer money has been allocated to the project.

Timmerman said they are hoping to start the other phases, which would include expanding into the county, as soon as possible.“We expect this to be much bigger than this first $65 million phase,” Timmerman said.

There are challenges with expanding into more rural areas, Timmerman noted, primarily the cost.UTOPIA uses an open access model, which Timmerman likened to how airports work. A local government, or public-private organization funds the construction of an airport, and then allows private companies — airlines — to make use of the facility.

Yellowstone Fiber is working with six providers, Timmerman said.

“We build a fiber network, but you don’t get the service from us,” Timmerman said. “You get the service from these different service provider partners. If you don’t like it, you switch and there’s no installation fee. There’s no long term contracts. So it’s very flexible.”

The former Bozeman Fiber was launched by the city commission in 2015. Since then, the nonprofit has worked closely with the city and county governments on the project.The county helped it secure $65 million in bonds, and recently the city and the nonprofit agreed to hire an outside consultant to handle all the permitting review and engineering for the fiber construction.

Bozeman Deputy Mayor Terry Cunningham said during Thursday’s press conference that the fiber project will make a big difference in Bozeman.“To have this absolutely, state of the art connectivity at the fingertips of our business, and our residents, and our schools and our university, et cetera, it is a game changer for our community,” Cunningham said.

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